by TERESA GENARO
Owner Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds admitted to some nervousness heading into the $735,000 Woodward (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, but Gun Runner left no room for doubt with a dominant 10 1/4-length win in the five-horse field.
Adding the Woodward to a nearly flawless 2017 campaign, Gun Runner sat several lengths off a pace-setting Neolithic through quick early fractions, then cruised passed him, opening up at will. Rally Cry stayed on to take second by 1 1/4 lengths from Neolithic in third.
“My horse broke so sharp I could pretty much do anything I wanted with him,” said jockey Florent Geroux. “He broke beautifully and…from the three-eighths pole, I just knew it was a matter of how many lengths I am going to win.
“That was better than the Whitney. 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 100 percent cranked up yet. I really do think he has another step forward with him.”
“You can never run out of things to say about him,” said Winchell, who’s been interviewed in the winner’s circle with Gun Runner for four graded stakes races this year, three of them Grade 1. “It was kind of a relief for me to see him win in the fashion he did.”
Owned in partnership with Three Chimneys Farm, Gun Runner was bred by Besilu Stables and purchased privately. His lone loss this year came to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1). He’s earned $5,738,500.
“I was a little worried coming up to a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup,” said Winchell. “Watching Arrogate lose his last two races, watching Songbird lose—it was fresh in our mind that it can easily happen to you. There were a lot of nervous moments.”
Out of the top three just twice in 17 starts, Gun Runner will train up to the Breeders’ Cup, said both Winchell and Asmussen, even though the son of Candy Ride has run well with short spacing between races, winning the Woodward a month after the Whitney, and the Clark (G1) three weeks after running second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last year.
“Consistency is always tough for horses,” said Winchell. “He just keeps showing up and delivering.”
“I think his Foster and Razorback were dominant,” said Asmussen, referring to races Gun Runner won off a layoff. “He won those races with tons in reserve and we want to be at our best [for the Breeders’ Cup]. We wanted to be dialed in for it.”
Winchell and his family are no strangers to winning big races: they campaigned their homebred champion Untapable (by Winchell runner Tapit) to five Grade 1 wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff; they won the 2005 Kentucky Oaks with Summerly. But in Winchell’s eyes, Gun Runner has exceeded even those formidable accomplishments.
“He’s got to be number one,” he said. “Obviously Tapit is a successful sire and it’s hard to argue with him, but from a standpoint of Thoroughbreds running, he’s number one.”