Six Take Best Shot at Gun Runner in Whitney

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Gun Runner (photo by Dawna Wood).

This year marks the 90th running of the Whitney Stakes (GI), a Saratoga staple for older handicap stars based on the East Coast. In 2017, the former handicap offers a purse of $1.2 million and drew a field of seven, all of whom were considered inferior to division leader Arrogate before his loss in the San Diego Stakes (GII) two weeks ago.

Now, with a crack in the foundation of the handicap division, this year’s Whitney — a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” event that guarantees a spot in the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Del Mar on Nov. 4 — it is probably safe to say the connections of every Whitney runner have Arrogate firmly  in their crosshairs.

The term “legend” is often tossed about recklessly in racing, but when it comes to the Whitney it’s fair to say that legends of the turf have either contested the now nine-furlong main-track test or returned victorious. Either way, the race named for one of the most prominent names in the history of thoroughbred racing, has seen a tremendous amount of talent reach the winner’s circle since it was first contested in 1928.

Hall of Famer Discovery won the Whitney three times in the 1930s and since then, names like War Admiral, Stymie, Tom Fool, Kelso (also three times), Carry Back, Gun Bow, Dr. Fager, Key to the Mint, Ancient Title, Alydar, Slew o’Gold, Easy Goer, Criminal Type, In Excess, Colonial Affair, Awesome Again, Blame, Fort Larned and Frosted last year are Whitney titleholders, as are the ladies Galorette, Lady’s Secret and Personal Ensign.

Friday’s afternoon thunderstorms in the Saratoga area are expected to carry into Saturday but taper off as the day progresses. It’s a good bet the main track will be wet, but how wet will probably depend on the afternoon temperatures, expected to reach the mid-80s, and the humidity, predicted to be more than 70 percent.

Fan favorite multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Gun Runner is the early favorite off his seven-length romp in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs last month and a career record of eight wins from 15 starts. Overall, his speed, pace and class figures are well above any of his rivals here and he’s clearly consistent. His only poor performance recently was on a sloppy track in last year’s Haskell Stakes (GI), where he finished fifth, so the weather is a bit of a concern.

However, if regular jockey Florent Geroux gets out of the gate in good order and gets Gun Runner to his favorite spot on the lead, he will be very tough to run down, especially at this distance. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride has been in Saratoga for several weeks and has looked nothing short of spectacular getting ready for this event and if he’s on his “A” game as is expected, everyone else is running for second.

Hard to believe that before winning the Suburban Stakes (GII) last month it had been nearly two years since Keen Ice’s last victory, where he dethroned the Triple Crown winner to capture the Travers Stakes (GI) — mostly because he’s been running fairly steadily since.

Despite the fact he rarely wins, he’s been pretty consistent hitting the board to put more than $3 million in his coffers. Todd Pletcher trains the son of Curlin, who will no doubt be several lengths off the early pace with jockey Jose Ortiz waiting until the right time to mow down the frontrunners in the lane. He may prefer more distance as he’s only earned a second and a third from six starts at 1 1/8 miles, but he has the talent and ability to earn the win despite the fact that he’s one of those runners who has to have everything go right to be able to put it all together.

War Story breaks from the rail and, as a stalker who likes an honest pace in front of him, will more than likely get it from the favorite and at least a couple others. He won the Brooklyn Handicap at 12 furlongs last out in fine fashion from just off the pace and will be cutting back in distance against the best field he’s faced since finishing fifth behind Arrogate and three others in the Pegasus World Cup (GI) in January. The Looch Racing and Glenn Ellis-owned son of Northern Afleet has had a lot of trainer swtiches, but makes his fifth start for the controversial conditioner Jorge Navarro. He’s made more than $1.1 million the hard way, picking up decent checks with decent performances against some good runners and, unfortunately, figures to pick up the pieces here again under racing’s newest Hall of Famer, Javier Castellano.

Though Breaking Lucky was a decent third to Gun Runner in the Stephen Foster last out, he hasn’t won in more than a year and has had to settle for a supporting role in the handicap division. His second in the Oaklawn Handicap (GI) earlier this year was spectactular and earned him a giant speed figure, but it was kind of a one-time deal so it’s hard to imagine the Reade Baker-trained son of Lookin at Lucky figures for a win here.

Chilean import Tu Brutus has a win, second and third in three tries since arriving in the U.S. earlier this year. He appears to want more distance and he’s never faced a more difficult field. Hard to figure where the Gary Contessa-trained son of Scat Daddy belongs in North American stakes company yet.

Discreet Runner is a decent non-graded stakes/allowance runner who may be in a bit tough.

Former claimer Cautious Giant is no doubt a rabbit here to guarantee a fast pace and soften up the favorite on the front end for stablemate War Story. Don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference, however.

The Whitney has been carded as the ninth race on the Saratoga card with a post time of 5:46 p.m. ET.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.