Making Money Betting Gun Runner in the Woodward Stakes

Gun Runner

By J. Keeler Johnson, courtesy America's Best Racing

As we come to the conclusion of a summer racing season filled with surprising upsets in major races (think Arrogate’s shocking defeats at Del Mar), it’s tempting to look for yet another upset in the $750,000 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga Race Course. Wouldn’t it be nice to kick off Labor Day weekend with a winner at 10-1 or higher?

However, while such an upset would be enjoyable for any bettor that successfully predicts it, the Woodward Stakes doesn’t appear to offer any serious potential for a longshot winner. Only five horses have been entered, and one—#2 Gun Runner—looks very difficult to beat at a short price.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner has been nearly unstoppable since winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last November. In four starts this year, Gun Runner has won three races by a combined 18 lengths, and his lone defeat came when second behind Arrogate in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup. Last time out, Gun Runner cruised to a decisive victory in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes (held over the same track and distance as the Woodward), winning by 5 ¼ lengths in the quick time of 1:47.71 for 1 1/8 miles.

The conditions of the Woodward Stakes appear perfect for Gun Runner, who is 4-for-6 at this distance. In a race that lacks any clear front-runners, Gun Runner’s proven ability to win while on the lead or while rating off the pace is a major asset, and I’m expecting another big effort from Gun Runner this Saturday.

His main competition could come from #3 Rally Cry, who won the 1 1/8-mile Alydar Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 6 by 8 ¾ lengths while earning massive speed figures (a 110 Beyer and a 109 BRIS). Those numbers stack up very well against the best figures earned by Gun Runner, but Rally Cry has a tendency to be rather inconsistent and has yet to win a graded stakes race. In his sole attempt in a Grade 1 race, Rally Cry could only finish a distant sixth. In addition, the Alydar Stakes was conducted on a day when Saratoga seemed to be strongly favoring front-runners and speed horses, which may have aided Rally Cry’s performance.

A more intriguing alternative to Rally Cry is #1 Neolithic. Although this speedy colt has yet to win a stakes race of any kind, he did finish third behind Arrogate in both the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup and the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup earlier this year, suggesting that he has the talent to be competitive at this level. After taking some time off, Neolithic returned to win an allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga on Aug. 5, rallying to win by a neck despite the distance of the race (seven-eighths of a mile) being short of his best.

Neolithic will stretch back out in distance this Saturday and figures to show speed while breaking from post position one, possibly even setting the pace. It could be difficult for Neolithic to turn the tables on Gun Runner (they were separated by five lengths in the Dubai World Cup), but at the very least Neolithic should have every chance to finish in the top two.

We’ll focus on Gun Runner, Neolithic, and Rally Cry in our main wagers, but we’ll also add #4 War Story to a couple of backup tickets, just in case the early pace gets heated and one of the three favorites weakens in the homestretch. War Story enters the Woodward off a fourth-place finish in the Whitney Stakes, but he had previously won the Grade 2 Brooklyn Stakes at Belmont Park by 2 ½ lengths.

Here’s how I would play the race:

Wagering Strategy on a $15 Budget

$5 trifecta: 2 with 1,3 with 1,3 ($10)
$2.50 trifecta: 2 with 1,3 with 4 ($5)

Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget

$8 trifecta: 2 with 1,3 with 1,3 ($16)
$3 trifecta: 2 with 1,3 with 4 ($6)
$1 trifecta: 1,3 with 2 with 1,3 ($2)
$0.50 trifecta: 1,3 with 2 with 4 ($1)

Good luck, and enjoy the race!