Gun Runner (Candy Ride) and jockey Florent Geroux win the Whitney (Gr I) at Saratoga
The Grade 1, $ 750,000 Woodward will mark a year and six days since Gun Runner ran third behind Arrogate’s devastating 13 1/2-length winning performance in the 2016 Travers.
Since then, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride has been no worse than second through a seven-race campaign that is currently capped by his 5 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Whitney. The earner of $ 5,288,500 through 16 career starts is in search of his 10th victory on Saturday for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
“We’ve talked about him quite a bit, how he spoils us with his consistency,” Asmussen said. “I think that he’s consistently or incrementally gotten better every race, and I think that’s ideal because it hasn’t been a huge jump forward, it’s just been a little bit at a time. He was an extremely talented 2-year-old, a very good 3-year-old and hopefully he’ll be a great older horse.”
Getting better with age, Gun Runner’s performance in the Whitney, accompanied by a rival’s loose shoe in his tail that hooked on for a trip from the half-mile all the way to the winners’ circle, was his best thus far, said Asmussen. The Woodward will be the final prep before Gun Runner enters the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 4, a year after his second-place finish in the Mile behind Tamarkuz.
“I was very impressed because of the circumstances of Saratoga,” he said. “You rarely ever see the race of a horses’ life at Saratoga. When you look back at some great forms, and some great races, it’s usually not their best number or fastest race. Visually it was an impressive race, watching it he went through the wire with good energy, and I’m very pleased with that. Staying here and then making one move to California gives us the best chance.”
Gun Runner will break from post 2, and will be ridden by Florent Geroux, who has been aboard for all but three starts.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will send two runners into the 1 1/8-mile Woodward fray in the hope of dethroning Gun Runner. The pair is led by Qatar Racing and Starlight Racing’s Neolithic, who returned from his third-place finish behind Arrogate and Gun Runner respectively in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup with a victory by a neck against open claimers on August 5 at Saratoga. The son of Harlan’s Holiday showed no ill effects from his trip to Dubai and has displayed strong efforts when facing graded stakes company. Bookending a nine-length victory against allowance company at Gulfstream Park is a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Discovery and third place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
Stablemate Rally Cry, carrying Paul Pompa Jr.’s colors, returns off his 8 ¾-length victory in the Alydar on August 6. The romp came after he tired to sixth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont. The Uncle Mo colt has been a tough foe when entered in small fields, but the pace and post will determine how both Pletcher’s runners will fare.
“Both are doing well, both ran well here,” Pletcher said. “I have a lot of respect for Gun Runner and his ability but we’re happy with the way our horses are doing and we’ll give it our best shot. It’s light in numbers, strong in quality. Both Rally Cry and Neolithic, at a mile and an eighth, have tactical speed so I think some of it will depend on post position, but Gun Runner is a pretty tactical horse as well, so we’ll see how it works out.”
Neolithic draws the rail and Jose Ortiz in the saddle, and Rally Cry will break from post 3, aided by Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez.
Loooch Racing Stable’s gelding War Story returns after his ground-saving, five-wide journey for fourth in the Whitney after the late closing 5 year-old son of Northern Afleet was thought to be aided by a pace-setter in Cautious Giant during pre-race strategy sessions. Instead, War Story closed into a moderate pace, and settled for a mid-pack finish.
War Story will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. and will break from post 4.
The Uriah St. Lewis owned-and-trained Discreet Lover will round out the field of five, making his 30th start of his career. The 4-year-old colt by Repent offered little in the Whitney with a fifth-place finish, beating two to the wire. The often-travelled colt has run at nine tracks will make his third start at Saratoga, and is in search of his first graded stakes victory.
Discreet Lover will break from post 5 and will be ridden by Manuel Franco.
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