SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Gun Runner gave every indication he is narrowing the gap on Arrogate when he captured the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes by an emphatic 5 ¼ lengths on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
When Steve Asmussen was asked if Gun Runner might have surpassed Arrogate in the eyes of some of those who vote in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll, he quipped, “I will say that we’ve had a better two weeks than he had.”
He was referring, of course, to the stunning upset that Arrogate suffered when he finished a perplexing fourth in the TVG San Diego Handicap on July 22 at Del Mar, which will host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The race marked Arrogate’s first start since he rallied for a sensational victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
As shockingly poor as that performance was in contrast to Gun Runner’s command of the Whitney, voters probably will keep Arrogate atop the standings. Arrogate did, after all, stage a furious rally to overtake Gun Runner by 2 ¼ lengths in Dubai.
Whatever the poll may say when it is distributed on Monday, Asmussen is content to know that Gun Runner at least belongs in the same conversation now. He is convinced the distance separating Arrogate and Gun Runner is shrinking. Rapidly.
“I got on a plane leaving Dubai feeling that way,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “He beat us 15 lengths here last year in the Travers and 2 ¼ lengths in Dubai. I feel like it’s headed in the right direction.”
Gun Runner, a 4-year-old son of Candy Ride that was coming off a seven-length romp in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 17, stalked early pacesetter Cautious Giant through an opening quarter that went in :23.89. Florent Geroux, leaving nothing to chance, gunned Gun Runner to the lead as they hit half a mile in :48.31.
There was no looking back. They continued to widen their margin and completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.71 on a fast track.
“I just gave him a tap around the eighth pole to make sure he stayed focused,” Geroux said. “But there was not even a need for that.”
Gun Runner won for the ninth time in 16 career starts to go with three second-place finishes and two third-place efforts. The $650,000 first prize spiked his lifetime earnings to $5,288,500.
“He’s incrementally gotten better,” Asmussen said contentedly. “He was a very good 2-year-old, an excellent 3-year-old and, hopefully, he can become a great 4-year-old.”
The Whitney victory carried an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as part of the “Win and You're In” Challenge Series. Asmussen was asked how much the racing world would like to see a confrontation between Arrogate and Gun Runner in the $6 million Classic.
“No more than I,” he replied.
In the case of American Gal, she came under the care of Simon Callaghan, a young West Coast trainer looking to establish himself nationally. That appears to be a solid call.
The daughter of Concord Point was extremely impressive in dominating the Test by four lengths and turning back runner-up Faypien, a Baffert trainee. She cruised through seven furlongs in 1:22.76.
American Gal shipped east for the second time in as many races this season and made the trek worthwhile on both occasions. She previously rolled by 4 ¾ lengths in the 6 1/2-furlong Victory Ride, a Grade 3 contest, on July 9 at Belmont Park.
Callaghan viewed that as a race to build on, and he was right.
“I’ve seen some great things in the morning and I think cutting her back to seven-eighths is going to be her optimum distance,” he said of the Test. “We were hoping for it, but it was nice to see.”
Callaghan said American Gal will return to the West Coast. He is not sure what might be next on the road to the Breeders’ Cup.
“We’ll think about the Breeders’ Cup and the best way to go about it. But we’ll just enjoy today,” he said.
Shah praised the work of Callaghan and his staff. “Simon is a very talented young man and he’s done a wonderful job,” he said.
According to Shah, his parting from Baffert was amicable. “I’ll always be a Bob fan,” he said.