by TERESA GENARO
A rascally rabbit was no match for the multiple Grade 1 winner Gun Runner on Saturday at Saratoga as talent trumped strategy in the $1.2 million Whitney (G1), a “Win & You’re In” prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Owners Loooch Racing Stables and Imaginary Stables caused a minor furor in the days before the race, entering Cautious Giant as an obvious rabbit for stablemate War Story, winner last out of the Brooklyn (G2) at Belmont Park. Though Ron Paolucci, declared that both horses were in it to win it, the public didn’t buy it, sending Cautious Giant off at odds of nearly 63-1, even if the New York stewards did, giving the OK for the two horses to run uncoupled.
But any attempted gamesmanship proved faulty relatively early in the nine-furlong Whitney. Cautious Giant did indeed go to the lead, but Gun Runner tracked him sensibly, running a length behind before making his move up the backstretch, dispatching the rabbit with ease and opening up heading into the far turn.
Breaking Lucky mounted a brief challenge to the leader, but by the time the field hit the stretch, the race was Gun Runner’s, with his six rivals running for second. Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, Gun Runner won by 5 1/4 lengths. Cautious Giant was last, while War Story finished fourth.
“He’s not a horse that chases other horses,” Ron Winchell said. “Putting a rabbit in there may have been a misconception.”
“At the five-eighths pole, I [said], ‘I am going to take over from here. You are trying to slow me down,'” jockey Florent Geroux said. “What can I say? He is a beast.”
The win was Gun Runner’s ninth from 16 starts, with three seconds and two third-place finishes. With the Whitney win, he’s earned nearly $5.3 million. The win was the first in the Whitney, run this year for the 90th time, for both trainer Steve Asmussen and Gun Runner’s owners.
Post-race photographs show Gun Runner with a horseshoe in his tail. It was later reported that Cautious Giant had lost a shoe during the running of the race, which somehow got entangled in Gun Runner’s tail.
By Candy Ride out of Quiet Giant, by Giant’s Causeway, Gun Runner was bred by Besilu Stables. He was purchased privately by Three Chimneys, who was joined in partnership by Winchell Thoroughbreds.
“For him to win a race of the quality of the Whitney at Saratoga, under the pressure that Saratoga brings, only elevates his status,” Asmussen said. “He’s spoiling us.”
While Gun Runner ran second last year in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), the goal this year is the Classic, and a third match-up with Arrogate, to whom Gun Runner was third in last year’s Travers (G1) and second in this year’s Dubai World Cup (G1).
“I wish we didn’t lose to him twice,” Winchell said. “I think [the rematch] is what people want to see.”
Winchell said the four-year-old Gun Runner will race once more before the Breeders’ Cup, with the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga on September 2 a “strong possibility.”
“Nothing but respect for Arrogate,” Asmussen said. “I witnessed the Travers here last year in person and to see a horse finish up like that at a mile and a 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.”