It didn’t take long for Gun Runner to fire a warning shot to the rest of the massive field of owners, trainers and horses that are being pointed towards the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
In the G1 Whitney, one of the landmark events of the annual Stakes Festival at Saratoga, Gun Runner ran away from a field of wannabes and dream chasers to win by 51/4 easy, impressive, and stage-setting lengths.
Keen Ice, who had won the Suburban Handicap in his last race and came into this race with a ton of supporters, ran second — but was never, ever, ever a serious threat.
Then, again, no one else in the field was either. For the second race in a row. Back in June, Gun Runner won the G1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs by 7 lengths to already stamp his passport to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
With his regular jockey Florent Geroux aboard, Gun Runner outbroke his competition and raced into contention early, settling two lengths behind expected pacesetter Cautious Giant, who took the field of seven through the opening quarter-mile in 23.89 seconds and the half in 48.31.
At the half-mile pole, Geroux let his charge out a notch and he quickly assumed the lead. Six furlongs went in 1:11.37 as the 4-year-old Candy Ride colt rounded the far turn with a two-length advantage over Breaking Lucky and Tu Brutus.
In front by three lengths at the top of the stretch, the Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner drew well clear through the stretch under a hand ride. He completed the 1 1/8-mile contest in a sharp final time of 1:47.71.
Keen Ice, the 3-1 second choice, rallied from last to secure second, finishing 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Breaking Lucky in third. It was another seven lengths back to War Story, followed by Discreet Lover, Tu Brutus, and Cautious Giant to complete the order of finish.
“My horse broke super sharp today from the gate,” said Geroux. “I could have gone to the lead if I wanted to, but I just stayed cover until the five-eighths pole and from there the race was pretty much over. My horse was just on cruise control from all the way from there and then I just gave him a tap around the 1/8 pole to make sure he stayed focused but there was not even a need for that.”
The winner carried the field’s high weight of 124 pounds plus Cautious Giant’s lost horseshoe, which had become dislodged on the backside and became tangled in Gun Runner’s tail.
That may be a sign, too. Gun Runner ran the shoes off them.
In the West Virginia Derby, there was no drama, either. Colonelsdarktemper, who ran a very game second to Irap in the Indiana Derby just three weeks ago for trainer Jinks Fires and his son-in-law rider Jon Court, led from gate to wire to capture the G3, $750,000 stakes at Mountaineer Park.
The son of Colonel John finished a length in front of Game Over, who had run fourth in the Ohio Derby behind the duo of Irap and Gervin; finishing third and fourth, respectively, were Kentucky Derby contenders Lookin at Lee and Patch.
“I had spoken with (Jinks) about the possibility of no one really wanting the lead and whether it could produce a favorable result to try to get it,” Court said, as reported in the online version of The Daily Racing Form. “He allowed me to dictate the pace, and it paid off big. Jinks has done a great job with this horse, not only the physical but the mental. This horse is all business.”