With Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) favoritism, and perhaps the Horse of the Year title up for grabs, Gun Runner continued on an upward trajectory towards those goals with a 10 ¼-length runaway win in the historic Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
Looking for his third Grade I win in a row, Gun Runner stalked the Todd Pletcher-trained Neolithic throughout solid opening fractions of :23.20 and :46.56 before drawing alongside of that rival at the head of the stretch and bursting away from him and the rest of the field.
Trainer Steve Asmussen was very pleased with the effort from Gun Runner, indicating that this was also his final start before the Breeders’ Cup.
“He stepped up,” Asmussen said. “He was carrying everybody, all of us, under these circumstances. We all know what’s happened over the past couple of weeks. This was our last race heading into the Breeders’ Cup and I thought it went as well as we could have hoped.”
With Gun Runner being on the pace in most of his races, Asmussen admitted the way things had unfolded in the previous race left him with some cause for concern.
“I was concerned watching the Spinaway. When a Grade 1 goes 1:24.97, you know the race track is very taxing. They go by three-quarters in ten [1:10], you know they’re doing their job. He increased his margin to the wire and proved his worth.”
Asmussen also indicated that Gun Runner would likely ship to California fairly early to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup.
“I want to leave here before we grow a winter coat and it’s too hot to get to California right now, with the weather they’re having over the next week. Over a hundred [degrees] every day — I don’t want to be a part of that. Two or three weeks at Churchill is becoming a strong possibility,” Asmussen said.
Florent Geroux, who has been aboard Gun Runner for his last 13 races, had high praise for the chestnut colt following the race.
“My horse broke so sharp I could pretty much do anything I wanted with him. From the three-eighths pole, I just knew it was a matter of how many lengths I am going to win. I was just hanging on. That is it.
“That was better than the Whitney,” Geroux went on. “Stronger. Faster. Overall, he is just getting better and that was four weeks and he is doing good on the track. And I don’t think he is one hundred percent cranked up yet. I really do think he has another step forward with him.”
Geroux also commented on Gun Runner switching leads multiple times down the stretch, something the colt often does in his races.
“He did [swap leads] on his right lead, he does that, he always swaps onto his right lead, but sometimes, when he gets distracted, he sweeps back onto his left, but he does not really get tired, he just has so much energy, he is looking at everything, and the little things just turn it on and he switches back and forth, but not because of tiredness but because he is just playful and feels good.”
Rally Cry, Pletcher’s other entrant in the race, finished second, 1 ¼ lengths clear of his stablemate Neolithic. War Story and Discreet Lover completed the order of finish. The final time for the 1 ⅛-mile journey was 1:47.43.
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, Gun Runner is by Candy Ride out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Quiet Giant. He was bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables LLC.