January 17, 2019

Gun Runner, Lady Ivanka in good order following Grade 1 triumphs at Saratoga

Gun Runner receives a big hug from jockey Florent Geroux after winning the Woodward Stakes (G1) by 10 1/4 lengths at Saratoga on Saturday, September 2, 2017 (c) NYRA/Susie Raisher/Adam Coglianese Photography

Gun Runner exited his third straight Grade 1 victory on Saturday in Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes (G1) in great shape, trainer Steven Asmussen said Sunday.

Gun Runner dominated the nine-furlong contest, pulling away to an effortless 10 1/4-length triumph under jockey Florent Geroux. The win followed equally impressive scores in the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 5 and Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) on June 17.

“He came back perfect,” Asmussen said. “We’re on a fun ride, He’s won three Grade 1s since he came back from Dubai, three Grade 1s by over 22 something lengths. He’s the best one in the barn. What makes these horses great is how they compete on the racetrack. I never thought it was fair to compare horses that didn’t get to defend themselves.”

Asmussen thinks the Woodward may be Gun Runner’s best race to date.

“Absolutely, because of the circumstances of the race, more pace in the race, three quarters in 10, and still finished up great,” he said. “It’s more taxing, but it’s perfect because of the nine-week break we have for the Breeders’ Cup.”

Gun Runner is now 4-1-0 from five starts this season, with his only loss coming as a runner-up effort behind Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) on March 25 at Meydan. Prior to that, the Candy Ride chestnut opened his four-year-old campaign with a 5 3/4-length victory in the Razorback Handicap (G3).

Now boasting a 17-10-3-2 career mark, including a second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and win in the Clark Handicap (G1) to close out 2016, Gun Runner is headed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar on November 4.

Besides the Dubai World Cup, his only other attempts at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles resulted in respective fourth- and third-place finishes in last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1).

“We’re in great shape,” Asmussen said, before adding about the distance question, “You can’t ever say there’s no concern, but we love the position we’re in.”

One race before the Woodward, Lady Ivanka stamped her own ticket to the Breeders’ Cup when posting a three-quarter win in the Spinaway Stakes (G1). That race is part of the “Win & You’re In” Challenge series and awarded the bay filly an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on November 4 at Del Mar.

The Tiz Wonderful juvenile miss came out of her second lifetime start, and win, tired but in good order, trainer Rudy Rodriguez said Sunday.

“She came up tired after but you expect that. They went fast in front. When she made a big run, we were close enough to get it. We’re very proud of her,” he said.

“We got lucky yesterday where the race unfolded like we expected,” Rodriguez added. “I was a little concerned when we went a little wider because we’ve been teaching her to take more dirt behind her. The track was playing fair. It’s not like a couple of weeks ago where it was all inside speed.”

Lady Ivanka romped by eight lengths in her career debut at Saratoga on August 9, and parlayed that into Grade 1 success on Saturday.

“She showed us a lot of talent from the beginning,” Rodriguez said. “My brother Gus trained her at Belmont and the first time we ran her, he was excited. It’s a lot easier to keep it quiet and let the horse do it, because if you’re expecting a lot and they don’t get results, then everything falls apart for the owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, hot walkers; it’s tough. So, we tried to take it as it comes.

“But my brother did pretty much all the work, I’m just here to run her.”

Though he wouldn’t commit, Rodriguez mentioned that the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1) going a mile at Belmont Park on October is a possibility for Lady Ivanka’s next start.

“We’ll talk to the owners in the next couple of days,” he stated, adding that Lady Ivanka will ship back to Belmont soon. “If she bounces back, I don’t see why not. You have to run when they want to run. We’ll give her a break but if she keeps acting the way she is, we’ll go.

“She ate everything last night. Everything went perfect.”