Gun Runner Cruises in Whitney
By Claire Novak, courtesy Blood-Horse
The move appeared audaciously early, but Florent Geroux knew what he had.
Still on the backstretch in the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes (G1) Aug. 5, Gun Runner made short work of 62-1 pacesetter Cautious Giant after tracking behind easy fractions, assuming control before the field hit the far turn at Saratoga Race Course.
"I was like, 'Pick it up a notch,'" Geroux said of his position behind the longshot leader. "At the five-eighths pole, I said, 'I am going to take over from here. You are trying to slow me down.' I wanted to keep my horse to a nice, easy breeze. I didn't want to fight with him. ... He's a beast. ... He can do it all."
"Florent showed a lot of confidence in him to take the lead when he did," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "There's a lot of pressure under those circumstances."
Entered as a rabbit, Cautious Giant instead failed to pick up the pace. But he did leave Gun Runner with spoils of war—one of the pacesetter's shoes flew off and got caught in the eventual winner's tail.
"They'll probably blame me and say I told him to throw it at him," Cautious Giant's co-owner Ron Paolucci said. "I'm going to call Asmussen and tell him I want my shoe back."
Cruising home on his lonesome under confident handling with the momento dangling behind, Gun Runner drew away en route to a 5 1/4-length win. His closest challenger, Breaking Lucky, was passed in late stretch by deep closer Keen Ice, who galloped in for runner-up honors but was never a threat to the winner.
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile test was 1:47.71.
The Whitney is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event for the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar. There, Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner could encounter champion Arrogate for a rematch, should the world's best racehorse rebound from his fourth in the July 22 San Diego Handicap (G2). Arrogate won their two previous encounters, the March 25 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) where Gun Runner finished second, and last year's Travers Stakes (G1), where the chestnut colt was third for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three-Chimneys Farm.
"Obviously he's lost to him twice, so a rematch would be great, but I wish we didn't lose to him twice," co-owner Ron Winchell said. "Since the Travers, he's a completely different horse, in my opinion. In Dubai it was a close race but he got one-upped by a fantastic horse in Arrogate, so we're looking forward to trying him again.
"I think it's what people want to see. Obviously Arrogate's number one, and I think Gun Runner's probably number two in people's eyes, so to see one and two run against each other, especially after Dubai when Gun Runner was leading and Arrogate ran him down, I think it will be fun."
Winchell doesn't know if Gun Runner can take Arrogate down, even after the champ's recent loss.
"I don't know if we're closing the gap," he said. "Arrogate's got to come back and win his next race. Horses do that, none of them are invincible. So I'm not concerned that he's dropped off. Now, if he loses another race, that's something else."