Classic Contender Gun Runner Brings Enormous Expectations to Whitney
By James Scully, courtesy Brisnet
An important prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Saturday’s 90th running of the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga features a major contender in Gun Runner. The talented 4-year-old has overpowered foes in three of his last four starts and will be seeking his second consecutive victory in a “Win & You’re In” race for the Classic.
The 1 1/8-mile Whitney has produced six subsequent Classic winners and Gun Runner has his sights set upon a serious bid at Del Mar in early November. A smashing seven-length victor most recently in the Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill Downs, the chestnut colt is listed as the 4-5 morning line favorite among seven runners.
As imposing as the favorite appears, a couple of elements add intrigue to the Whitney storyline. Gun Runner’s only unplaced finishes from 15 career starts came over sloppy ovals and a wet track is expected Saturday. And after four consecutive wire-to-wire stakes wins, the owner of a rival has entered an overmatched sprinter to guarantee a solid pace and try to soften up Gun Runner.
Confirmed late runner Keen Ice heads the cast of challengers. The Whitney marks the 5-year-old’s first appearance at Saratoga since upsetting American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers and while he failed to win for a long time afterward, Keen Ice returns in good form for trainer Todd Pletcher, rallying to capture the July 8 Suburban (G2) at Belmont Park by three lengths. His only stakes wins have come at 1 ¼ miles, but Keen Ice’s affinity for the track remains appealing.
Breaking Lucky ran a big race in the 2016 Woodward (G1) at Saratoga, missing by only a neck in fourth, and faced disadvantageous circumstances in his last two starts at Churchill Downs. The Canadian-based horse has hit the board in five of eight attempts at the distance and is eligible to receive a favorable ground-saving trip behind the speed from post 2.
War Story registered his initial graded stakes win taking the 1 ½-mile Brooklyn (G2) on the Belmont Stakes undercard but could find this class hike too daunting. His owner has entered 30-1 outsider Cautious Giant, the aforementioned sprint specialist, to run as fast as he can before fading. Tu Brutus and Discreet Lover appear up against it.
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate faltered as an odds-on favorite recently but we won’t go against Gun Runner, who enters in razor-sharp form for Steve Asmussen and simply looks too good for these opponents. He’s well-drawn in post 6 to handle any early circumstances and displayed good tractability while handling a rain-dampened track in the Dubai World Cup earlier this year.
Breaking Lucky is eligible to deliver an improved effort at Saratoga and offers appeal for the bottom of the exotics at long odds. Keen Ice must avoid leaving himself too much to do on the cut back to nine furlongs but can still grab a minor award from off the pace.