Gun Runner leaves no doubt in Whitney

Gun Runner leaves no doubt in Whitney”

Gun Runner easily won the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga as the 3-5 favorite, giving Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his first victory in the $1.2 million race.

That was Cautious Giant, a sprinter who was given no chance to actually win the race.

Keen Ice, who stumbled badly at the start, rallied from last to get second by 1 1/4 lengths over Breaking Lucky.

A consistent graded performer throughout his sophomore season, Gun Runner was second in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile before concluding the year with a well-deserved first Grade I tally in the November 25 GI Clark H. The quarantine at Fair Grounds over the winter forced him to miss an expected start in the inaugural GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational, but he prepped for his trip to Dubai with a facile score in the February 20 GIII Razorback Oaklawn Park.

As part of the Breeders" Cup Challenge, the 1m1f contest is a "Win and You're In' qualifier for the Classic, in which Gun Runner is rated clear second favourite behind his Meydan conqueror Arrogate in ante-post lists with British bookmakers.

The trainer's eyes widened when the subject of the horseshoe stowaway came up. "It was in there", he said. Quiet Giant produced another Tapit filly in 2016 and foaled a full-brother to Gun Runner May 17 of this year.

He had been training magnificently, and the Whitney turned into a romp accordingly.

"He's always improving", said regular jockey Florent Geroux. The margin was two lengths turning for home, and Gun Runner poured it on from there. "So it could've happened to us. It's not because you're famous that you win".

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 previous year are Whitney titleholders, as are the ladies Galorette, Lady's Secret and Personal Ensign. By then, Cautious Giant's shoe clinging to Gun Runner's tail was a symbol of desperation, then domination.

"I just gave him a tap around the eighth pole to make sure he stayed focused", Geroux said. He got away cleanly, he handled nicely, he didn't let that horse disrupt the rhythm he was in. He's a beast, he checked all the boxes.

While the year-end goal is the Classic, Asmussen said he may use the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward here on September 2 as Gun Runner's final prep. Asmussen said the nine weeks between the Woodward and the Classic are ideal. "So for Florent to have the confidence to take over there when an obvious rabbit is in the race, he knows the horse". "My horse was pretty much on cruise control all the way around there".

Gun Runner captured last year's GII Louisiana Derby and his win in the Whitney gave the race its second Grade I winner in as many weekends, following 2017 victor Girvin (Tale of Ekati)'s win in the GI Haskell Invitational last Sunday. Somebody threw a shoe at him this time, but he looks like he can handle the kitchen sink.

"It adds up", Asmussen said. "I feel like it's headed in the right direction". Nothing but respect for Arrogate. "He beat us 15 lengths here past year in the Travers and 2 ¼ lengths in Dubai".

"We've seen him run brilliantly at Churchill repeatedly, and his only other run at Saratoga was the Travers, which was solid, but not at this level".

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