Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner didn’t have a lot to prove heading into Saturday’s $1.176 million Whitney Stakes (GI) at Saratoga. The son of Candy Ride is easily the best handicap horse in the East having won three of his last four starts and finishing second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (GI), but, regardless, six others took their best shot at the 4-year-old only to come up short, as the Steve Asmussen trainee romped to a 5 ¼-length score in the nine-furlong feature at the upstate New York racetrack.
Under jockey Florent Geroux, Gun Runner sped straight to the lead after breaking from the six-hole and, soon after, settled off Cautious Giant, who was entered as a rabbit to soften up the favorite on the lead. After Cautious Giant logged the opening-quarter mile of :23.89 he was out of gas and Gun Runner was in command, cruising through the rest of the 1 1/8-mile test in splits of :48.31, 1:11.37 and 1:35.35 before widening his lead inside the final furlong, stopping the clock in 1:47.71 over a main track labeled fast.
Keen Ice rallied from last early to earn second-place honors, crossing the wire another 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Breaking Lucky. War Story, Discreet Lover, Tu Brutus and Cautious Giant completed the order of finish.
As the heavy 3-5 favorite, Gun Runner was worth $3.20, $2.30 and $2.10. Keen Ice closed off the $9.50 exacta at odds of nearly 7-2 and was good for $3.20 and $2.50. Breaking lucky paid $3.50 at odds of 12-1. The trifecta returned $32.80.
“My horse broke super sharp today from the gate, I could have gone to the lead if I wanted to, but I just stayed covered until the five-eighths pole and from there the race was pretty much over,” Geroux said. “My horse was just on cruise control from all the way from there and then I just gave him a tap around the eighth pole to make sure he stayed focused but there was not even a need for that.”
Gun Runner picked up a nice $650,000 paycheck for his latest Grade 1 score to bring his earnings to $5,288,500 and his record now stands at 16-9-3-2. He also won last year’s Clark Handicap (GI) and this year’s Stephen Foster Stakes (GI), and was also second in the March 25 Dubai World Cup (GI).
“He’s spoiling us, he really is,” Asmussen said. “He went about his business and Florent 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.
“I thought he kind of charged the gate a second before it opened. I thought he showed a lot of athleticism to still be where he was. He came to the paddock with his game face on and as I said, ‘Gun Runner has spoiled us with his ability and his consistency.’ For him to win a race of quality of the Whitney at Saratoga under the pressure that Saratoga brings only elevates his status. 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.
“Arrogate beat us both times [they faced each other, in last year’s Travers Stakes and this year’s Dubai World Cup.] 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. 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.”
Gun Runner was bred in Kentucky by Besilu Stables and Three Chimneys acquired the chestnut as a yearling in a package deal. Besilu had purchased his dam, the grade 2 winner Quiet Giant, out of the late Edward P. Evans’ dispersal at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale and she was subsequently bred to Candy Ride. That foal, Gun Runner, was set to be sold as a 2-year-old by Three Chimneys, but Ron Winchell took a liking to the colt and partnered with the historic nursery and sixteen starts later, with nine wins and more than $5.2 million in earnings that unlikely partnership now has an older handicap star.
Gun Runner previously earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) with his victory in the Stephen Foster and is now dual qualified with his Whitney score. He carried high weight of 124 pounds and at the wire may have picked up an ounce or two in the form of Cautious Giant’s shoe, which was tangled in Gun Runner’s tail during the run up the backstretch and remained there all until he returned to the winner’s circle.