DEL MAR, Calif. -- It took jockey Florent Geroux just a little over two minutes to take his career to the next level late Saturday afternoon at Del Mar, when he guided Gun Runner to a convincing victory in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Geroux has shined on the Breeders' Cup stage before, winning the Sprint in 2014 at Santa Anita with Work All Week and both the Turf Sprint with Mongolian Saturday and the Juvenile Fillies Turf with Catch a Glimpse the following year at Keeneland. But none of those victories could compare to what the 29-year-old native of Normandy, France was able to accomplish on Saturday.
"This means so much to me - it's the biggest victory of my career," Geroux said moments after winner's circle festivities had ended following the Classic. "Horse of the Year was on the line today, and I'm glad he was able to pull it off."
Geroux has been the 4-year-old Gun Runner's regular rider since trainer Steve Asmussen first teamed the pair up to win the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in February of his 3-year-old campaign. The two have remained together ever since, with their victory in the Classic the ninth time in 15 starts they have found the winner's circle together, including in 5 of 6 starts in 2017. The only blemish on their record this season is a second-place finish behind Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup.
"It's been an up-and-down year for us," said Doug Bredar, who has been Geroux's agent since January of 2010. "But Gun Runner has made it unbelievably special. Steve was generous enough to put us on him for the first time during the winter of his 3-year-old season, and we're grateful that he and the owners have been loyal and stuck with us ever since. Working for Florent is like a dream come true. He works hard, does his homework and, most of all, he's a real class act."
Asmussen was also quick to praise Geroux, not only for the job he's done on Gun Runner over the past two seasons in general, but for the way he handled himself in the most important race in the careers of both horse and rider on Saturday.
"Florent has been a big part of what has been a team effort all along with Gun Runner," said Asmussen. "Obviously we were concerned with the way the track was playing here today, but he's got the ultimate confidence in this horse, and he rode him perfectly."
Geroux broke Gun Runner alertly and put him right on the lead while keeping him several paths off the inner rail. Gun Runner was stalked by Collected and jockey Martin Garcia before edging clear through the final furlong.
"I thought he was the quickest horse in the race, so I wasn't surprised we were on the lead," said Geroux. "I just wanted to concentrate, make sure we were not going too fast, get him to relax, and have something left for the stretch. And I was happy Martin wasn't going crazy outside me on Collected. I kept him off the rail by design because I could see there hadn't been a winner on the fence all day. I didn't want to go all the way to the outside, but I tried to keep at least two to three paths off the rail, and fortunately my horse was the best today."
Geroux said he's felt a special connection with Gun Runner right from the start.
"You ride a thousand horses a year, and this one, there's just something special," said Geroux. "I don't know, it's just a crazy connection. I'm not a true believer in that, but I do believe now."