First-crop sires: Gun Runner keeps blazing with Costa Terra, Gunite

July 9th, 2021

Gun Runner, the 2017 Horse of the Year, is one of the young sires with first-crop two-year-olds that the TwinSpires team is following in 2021. Our first installment covered Gun Runner’s background and his three initial winners.

Currently the leading freshman sire in North America, Gun Runner added three more winners to his tally between June 20 and July 1. Two scored at Kentucky tracks — Costa Terra and Gunite — and Gran Aplauso prevailed on turf in Japan.

Gun Runner’s seventh winner, Joyrunner, just rolled Thursday night at Indiana Grand. Watch for her in our next update!

Costa Terra

Costa Terra created an excellent impression in his July 1 debut at Ellis Park, where he became yet another winner for Gun Runner’s connections, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. His margin of victory was only a nose, but it was how he accomplished it.

The 19-10 favorite didn’t have the early speed to go with the leaders and dropped about four lengths back through an opening quarter in :22.37. The sloppy track was generally conducive to speed that day. Thus, when pace player Buckingham Prince drove clear by the half in :45.35, he appeared to hold a commanding advantage in mid-stretch.

But once Costa Terra angled out in the lane, he showed some engine and rapidly gained on the leader. With ears pinned and flaxen tail streaming, he mugged Buckingham Prince on the wire.

Costa Terra, who needed every inch of the five furlongs, should come into his own as the distances increase. Yet he had the talent to win first time out, against a rival with race experience, at a short trip, in a fast time of :57.41.  

Asmussen spoke to Jennie Rees after the race:

Obviously, I’m extremely excited about him getting up and winning with a Gun Runner, out of a great family of the Winchells.

I think the sky’s the limit for this colt. It’s quite obvious that, the farther he goes, the better he’ll be.

I think it’s very good that this colt won now, and we can be patient with him and let him fill out the frame that he has.

Asmussen is familiar with Costa Terra’s family. He trained half-brother Pneumatic, winner of last summer’s Pegasus S. at Monmouth and also third in the Matt Winn S. (G3) and fourth in the Belmont S. (G1). Asmussen also trained their dam, multiple stakes-placed Teardrop, by Tapit, as well as Teardrop’s full sister, Grade 3 winner War Echo, and Teardrop’s three-quarter brother, millionaire Pyro.

Costa Terra will likely advance to the stakes level in the Aug. 15 Ellis Park Juvenile.

Asmussen added that Gun Runner’s juveniles promise to improve over time, just as their sire did:

Everything about them gives us the impression that, the farther they go and the older they get, the better they’ll be. That’s what’s so exciting. Gun Runner was an excellent two-year-old, an extremely good three-year-old, and an unbeatable four-year-old.


Another Gun Runner colt for the Winchell/Asmussen team, Gunite, found his third try to be the charm on the June 26 closing-day card at Churchill Downs.

In his first two starts beneath the Twin Spires, both at five furlongs, Gunite got shuffled far off the pace and did well to close for a minor award. The dark bay took a step forward from his debut third April 29 to finish an eye-catching runner-up May 22.

Gunite’s breakthrough came on the step up to six furlongs, but he also flashed speed for the first time. Hustled from his rail post, the even-money favorite vied through an opening quarter in :21.66 and put away his foes by the time he reached the half in :44.98. Gunite kept on convincingly to hold sway by 1 1/2 lengths, from firster Brigadier General, in 1:10.10.

Like Costa Terra, Gunite is a homebred from a family cultivated by the Winchells. He is out of Simple Surprise, a turf sprinter who captured the 2015 Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga. Simple Surprise’s dam, Simplify, was a sprint stakes veteran on the main track. So was the third dam in the sequence, multiple stakes winner and Grade 2-placed Classic Olympio.

Gunite sports close inbreeding to Giant’s Causeway, the “Iron Horse.” Gun Runner is out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, and Gunite’s dam is by the Giant’s Causeway stallion Cowboy Cal.

Now on the worktab at Saratoga, Gunite is nominated to the July 17 Sanford S. (G3).

Gran Aplauso

Kentucky-bred Gran Aplauso’s victorious debut at Sapporo represented a double landmark for Gun Runner — his first international winner and first on turf.

Given the versatility of Gun Runner’s sire, Candy Ride, and the influence of Giant’s Causeway, as well as other factors in his female line, he has a right to sire turf performers.

Gran Aplauso is a homebred for Koji Maeda’s North Hills Co., best known stateside for campaigning Lani through the 2016 Triple Crown. Lani was beaten by Gun Runner when they were ninth and third, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Trained, like Lani, by Mikio Matsunaga, Gran Aplauso was sent off as the 3.2-1 third choice in a June 20 newcomers’ race. The bay drew the far outside post 16 in the about six-furlong dash, but he had the tactical speed to overcome it.

Gran Aplauso secured a perfect stalking position for jockey Yutaka Take, easily passed the pacesetter on the turn for home, and held by a measured length. His final time of 1:09.5 was just off the record of 1:08.9, according to

Gran Aplauso’s first two dams were also turf sprinters in Japan. He is out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Fiducia, a Grade 3-placed stakes winner. Fiducia’s dam is champion Believe, by Sunday Silence, who garnered both of Japan’s marquee turf sprints — the 2002 Sprinters S. and 2003 Takamatsunomiya Kinen — over males. This is the further family of Hall of Famer Lady’s Secret.

The July 17 Hakodate Nisai (G3), also at about six grassy furlongs, is reportedly on his radar.

About the series

Freshman Orientation is a series that highlights five different sires with a first crop of 2-year-old Thoroughbreds. Could the juveniles show up at the Breeders' Cup or even the 2022 Kentucky Derby? Follow along and find out!

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