Three Chimneys Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds' Gun Runner romped to the easiest of victories in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, crossing the wire 5 1/4 lengths in front of runner-up Keen Ice. The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride already earned a Breeders' Cup Classic berth via his victory in the G1 Stephen Foster earlier this year, but his preparations for a possible rematch with Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate appear to be going as well as could be expected. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the gallant chestnut was guided by Florent Geroux to cover nine furlongs over the fast main track in 1:47.71.
“He's spoiling us. He really is,” said Asmussen. “He went about his business and Florent [Geroux] gave him a flawless ride. We talked about the pace scenario with a possible rabbit, but we wanted him to wait and not take away from what got him here. He got away cleanly, he handled nicely, he didn't let that horse disrupt the rhythm he was in. Florent showed a lot of confidence in him to take the lead when he did. There's a lot of pressure under those circumstances when there's a horse entered for pace for him. When he let him drop off into the second turn there, he showed a lot of confidence in the horse. As you saw how he went by the wire, Florent knows him really well.”
As expected, Cautious Giant was quick out of the starting gate, but both Breaking Lucky and Gun Runner were right there heading into the first turn to ensure a solid early pace. Cautious Giant scooted away to a 1 1/2-length lead, marking the first quarter mile in :23.89 as Geroux held Gun Runner to second along the outside. Breaking Lucky was reined back to third, and Tu Brutus was tracking the frontrunners from fourth. Jose Ortiz had the deep closer Keen Ice well settled at the rear of the field.
Cautious Giant tried to ease back on the throttle down the backstretch, but Geroux wasn't fooled and nudged Gun Runner up to within a half-length of the leader. After a half-mile in 48.31 seconds, Gun Runner took over the lead entering the far turn, quickly giving himself a one-length advantage over Cautious Giant.
“I was like 'pick it up a notch,' but at the five-eighths pole, I [said] 'I am going to take over from here. You are trying to slow me down,'” Geroux relayed. “I wanted to keep my horse to a nice breeze. I didn't want to fight with him. What can I say? He is a beast. He checked all the boxes. He can do it all.”
Breaking Lucky at the rail came up to be within a length of Gun Runner on the turn, and Ortiz had started working aboard Keen Ice at the rear of the field, but turning for home the little red machine that is Gun Runner this season had a two-length lead. Breaking Lucky was unable to match him when Geroux asked Gun Runner for his best, urging the colt through the final furlong and finishing up strong. Gun Runner crossed the line 5 1/4 lengths in front of Keen Ice, who was making up ground but never a threat to the winner. Breaking Lucky had to settle for third, and War Story checked in fourth.
On runner-up Keen Ice, trainer Todd Pletcher said: “I thought he ran really well. He stumbled a bit at the start and we didn't quite get the pace that we were hoping for, but I thought he ran his race and closed well. He was coming at the end. Going in, we were a little concerned a mile-and-an-eighth would be a little shorter than his best. I thought he ran a big race and hats off to the winner. It wasn't what we were hoping for. It didn't really spread the race like we were hoping for. Look, Gun Runner is very good. I was very, very proud of Keen Ice today and I thought he ran a big race.”
In reviewing the post-race footage, it appears Gun Runner had an additional passenger through at least part of his Whitney journey: one of Cautious Giant's shoes ended up tangled in the winner's tail as he ran down the stretch.
“For him to win a race of quality of the Whitney at Saratoga under the pressure that Saratoga brings only elevates his status,” Asmussen continued. “The crowd here, going over walking from the Oklahoma side by the racetrack through the holding barn though the crowd…the attention that is given to a horse of his caliber adds up. The attention [doesn't] sneak up on you, and I thought he handled it well. He ran a dynamite race with a very good time over the racetrack here.”
Bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables, Gun Runner marked the first joint venture for Ron Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm. The colt rewarded his connections with wins in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, then a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. One of the few 3-year-olds to contest the entire 2016 season, Gun Runner finally got his first Grade 1 win in the fall in Churchill's Clark Handicap. Thus far in 2017 he has been super consistent, running a very good second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup and winning the Stephen Foster. The Whitney victory brings his tally to nine wins from 16 starts, with earnings of over $5.3 million.
Connections are hoping to take another shot against Arrogate this fall in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar.
“He's beat us both times [Arrogate],” Asmussen said. “Hopefully, the stars will align and we'll have another opportunity at the end of the year. I got on the plane leaving Dubai thinking that way. He beat us 15 lengths in the Travers and 2 ½ in Dubai. I felt like it's headed the right direction. He needs to finish off this year [to be considered a great horse]. Nothing but respect for Arrogate. I witnessed the Travers here last year in person and to see a horse finish up like that at a mile and quarter is as rare as ever. Gun Runner gives us the confidence. We're up to the challenge and if he can finish off the year, it'll be deserving.”
Watch the race replay here:
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