by Jon White
August 9, 2017
Saratoga often has been called “the graveyard of favorites.” But it was odds-on favorite Gun Runner who did the burying at the historic race course last Saturday. The 3-5 favorite buried his half-dozen rivals with a dominant 5 1/4-length triumph in the Whitney.
The Whitney is remembered by many for producing one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport when Onion defeated Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1973. But the heavy favorite did get the job done in this year’s Whitney for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Gun Runner once again proved he does not have to be in front early in order to win. He rated nicely just off a moderate early pace (:23.89, :48.31) set by 62-1 Cautious Giant, who had been entered in the race as a “rabbit” for 6-1 War Story.
Approaching the far turn in the 1 1/8-mile event, Gun Runner readily took over. Shaking clear on the far turn without being hard ridden to do so, he steadily increased his lead in the stretch while on his way to an emphatic win in a splendid 1:47.71. It was the fastest final time in the Whitney since Lawyer Ron’s 1:46.64 clocking 10 years ago.
Keen Ice is best known for upsetting Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers at Saratoga. In this year’s Whitney, Keen Ice finished a non-threatening second to Gun Runner, with Breaking Lucky ending up third in the field of seven.
Of the thousands and thousands of horse races that I have watched over the years, I had never seen a horse finish a race with a horseshoe in his or her tail…until, amazingly, it happened with Gun Runner in the Whitney.
Following the race, while Gun Runner was on his way to the winner’s circle, people noticed a horseshoe embedded in his tail. Videotape of the race shows that on the backstretch, in the vicinity of the five-sixteenths pole, Cautious Giant lost a shoe, with it flying high into the air. It came down and bounced off Cautious Giant’s hind end, then ricocheted into Gun Runner’s tail. The shoe remained in Gun Runner’s tail throughout the remainder of the race.
The morning after the Whitney, NYRA TV’s Maggie Wolfendale asked Asmussen if he had ever had a horse finish a race with five shoes.
“No,” Asmussen replied. “I received multiple congratulations and texts, but twice as many ‘did you see thats?’ To have that happen in any race is so improbable, let alone with Gun Runner in the Whitney at Saratoga. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again. And I would choose not to. It’s just very lucky it didn’t hit him in the head. And watching the tape, his pretty long tail kept it out away from him. It never did come into contact with him until he came to a full stop, which was very fortunate.”
According to Asmussen, after the winner’s circle ceremony, the help gave the shoe to his assistant, Scott Blasi. Knowing it was not Gun Runner’s shoe and not realizing the shoe’s significance, Blasi tossed it aside.
Asmussen said with a chuckle that after Blasi “received several ‘did you see thats?” himself, “he had to purchase the shoe back.”
According to Sunday’s Saratoga Race Course notes, Blasi paid “$100 to a lucky fan” who had picked up shoe.
“My kids took it home,” Asmussen said. “They said they were going to put a shadow box around it. They said that they literally have a rabbit’s foot since it came off the horse that was the rabbit.”
Shoe-gate aside, Gun Runner certainly has developed into one serious racehorse. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt has reeled off four consecutive U.S. victories in impressive fashion. In his last four starts in this country, Gun Runner has won the:
--Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs by 2 3/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles last Nov. 25. Beyer Speed Figure: 111.
--Grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park by 5 3/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 20. Beyer Speed Figure: 110.
--Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs by seven lengths at 1 1/8 miles on June 17. Beyer Speed Figure: 110.
--Grade I Whitney Stakes at Saratoga by 5 1/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday. Beyer Speed Figure: a career-best 112.
The only blemish on Gun Runner’s 2017 record came in the Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 25. When he kicked away to a clear lead coming into the stretch, it appeared he might well be on his way to victory. But Gun Runner had to settle for second after Arrogate swept by him in the stretch. Arrogate won going away by 2 1/4 lengths despite being far back early after a dreadful start.
Even though Gun Runner did not win the Dubai World Cup, he still ran extremely well. But as well as he ran, his effort just did not measure up to Arrogate’s fantastic performance.
Gun Runner has been no match for Arrogate in their two encounters to date. In addition to the Dubai World Cup, the two met in last year’s Grade I Travers at Saratoga.
I considered Arrogate’s victory in the 1 1/4-mile Travers to have been the top 2016 performance by a Thoroughbred in the United States. I ranked it No. 1 because of his winning margin of 13 1/2 lengths, his final time of 1:59 1/5 and his lack of any prior stakes experience. Gun Runner finished third in the Travers, 15 lengths behind Arrogate.
It appears round three for Arrogate and Gun Runner will take place in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
As for Gun Runner’s next start, Asmussen said it is “very probable” that it will be in Saratoga’s Grade I Woodward at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 2.
Meanwhile, it’s all systems go for Arrogate to make his next start in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 19. He will be endeavoring to rebound from the worst race of his career, a 15 1/4-length defeat when he finished fourth as a 1-20 favorite in Del Mar’s San Diego Handicap.
Since Arrogate’s dull effort in the July 22 San Diego, the colt has had a pair of lively workouts at Del Mar for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled’s Song worked four furlongs in a bullet :47 1/5 on Aug. 1. He then stepped seven furlongs Tuesday at Del Mar in 1:25 1/5, described by Baffert as “a serious work,” with a praiseworthy one-mile gallop out clocked in 1:38 1/5.
“He’s back to his old self again,” Baffert said Tuesday in a Del Mar press release. “He looked good. He galloped out strong.”
In the July 19 edition of this column, I noted that Arrogate was an even-money favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic future book at the Wynn Race Book in Las Vegas, with Gun Runner next at 7-1. It has tightened up considerably between these two. In the Wynn’s latest BC Classic odds as of Tuesday, Arrogate’s price had risen to 8-5, while Gun Runner’s odds plummeted to 9-5.
USAIN BOLT LOSES, BOLT D’ORO WINS
Bolt d’Oro, a $630,000 yearling purchase, was an eye-catching winner at first asking in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race last Saturday for owner-trainer Mick Ruis at Del Mar.
Even though Bolt d’Oro did not have the best of starts, he rushed up quickly to vie for the early lead. He drew clear in the stretch to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths as the 4-5 favorite. The Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt was assigned a 77 Beyer Speed Figure.
Bolt d’Oro is expected to make his next start in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 4. Also eyeing that seven-furlong affair is Tatters to Riches, who won a six-furlong maiden race by 1 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on July 29 as a 3-5 favorite while recording a 78 Beyer. Jeff Mullins trains Tatters to Riches, a $1 million auction purchase in April.
Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free reported that Bolt d’Oro “is named after Usain Bolt, the Olympic gold medalist considered the fastest man in the world.”
Ironically, the same day that Bolt d’Oro won a race at Del Mar, Usain Bolt was beaten in the final solo race of his extraordinary career. After a sluggish start, Bolt finished third in the 100-meter dash at the IAAF World Championship in London. American Justin Gatlin, almost five years Bolt’s senior, won the race in a tight finish in 9.92 seconds. Another American, Christian Coleman, took silver in 9.94 seconds. Bolt took home bronze in 9.95 before a 60,000 sellout crowd at the Olympic Stadium.
Bolt is expected to compete in the 4x100-meter relay in London on Aug. 12 to bring down the curtain on the superstar’s career.
MY UPDATED TRAVERS TOP 10
Gunnevera’s good performance in last Sunday’s Tangelo Stakes at Gulfstream Park earned him a spot on my updated Travers Top 10 list this week. He won the 1 1/16-mile Tangelo by five lengths and recorded an 86 Beyer Speed Figure.
Earlier this year, Gunnevera won the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 4 before finishing third in the Florida Derby, seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness.
Saratoga’s Grade I Travers will be decided at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 26.
Here is my up-to-date Travers Top 10:
1. West Coast
2. Good Samaritan
6. Always Dreaming
8. Cloud Computing
LONGACRES MILE RENEWED SUNDAY
The richest race in the Pacific Northwest, the Grade III, $200,000 Longacres Mile, will be decided this Sunday at Emerald Downs. To Northwest racing fans, it is known simply as The Mile. Since childhood, as a native of Spokane, Wash., I have always considered it my favorite race.
It was 50 years ago on a hot, muggy afternoon at beautiful Longacres that I stood next to my father in the crowd near the winner’s circle and saw my first Longacres Mile. Kings Favor and future Hall of Fame jockey John Sellers won by four lengths.
I watched the 2016 Longacres Mile on a television at my parents’ home in Spokane. Sadly, it turned out to be the final horse race that I would ever watch alongside my father, who died this year on June 1 from prostate cancer.
Point Piper was my pick to win the 2016 Longacres Mile. As a guest that morning on the radio program “The Win, Place Show,” hosted by Joe Withee on Seattle station KJR-AM, I explained why I loved Point Piper to win The Mile later in the day. I said that it is not very often one can get around 4-1 (which was Point Piper’s morning line price) on “quite probably the best horse in the race.”
As it turned out, Point Piper went off at 5-1. Local runner O B Harbor was bet down to 6-5 favoritism.
I said to Withee that I felt Point Piper was the class of the race because he had run against such toughies as California Chrome, Melatonin, Dortmund, Effinex and Hoppertunity. I also felt Point Piper looked good because of his Beyer Speed Figures. He had recorded a Beyer of 96 or higher in six of his last eight starts going into The Mile.
To the delight of my father and yours truly, we watched Point Piper trounce his foes, winning by 4 3/4 lengths. He paid $12.20 to win.
Point Piper’s final time of 1:32 4/5 (1:32.90 in hundredths) broke the stakes and track record of 1:33 flat established by Sky Jack (a son of Longacres Mile winner Skywalker) when he romped to a 6 1/4-length triumph in the 2003 edition of The Mile. (Sky Jack’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, kindly gave me the two front shoes Sky Jack wore in his Longacres Mile victory.)
The Racing Form’s Randy Goulding reported that Point Piper will be back to try and repeat in this Sunday’s Longacres Mile. I again am picking Point Piper to win, though I do so without quite as much confidence as I had in him last year. I am not quite as confident this time because Point Piper is winless in seven starts since his 2016 Longacres Mile victory. However, as I see it, on the plus side, he again has been facing toughies since The Mile last year. He has run against the likes of Gun Runner, Accelerate (who won the recent Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar while defeating mighty Arrogate) and California Chrome.
Point Piper has not started since he finished seventh in the Grade III All American on synthetic footing at Golden Gate earlier this year on May 29. The fact that Point Piper has not had raced since May 29 does not bother me vis-a-vis this Sunday’s race. That’s because Point Piper showed what he can do when fresh in last year’s Longacres Mile, which was his first start since May 22.
It appears to me that once Point Piper starting piling up the losses after last year’s Longacres Mile, Hall of Fame trainer Hollendorfer figured a prudent plan would be to freshen him up and send him back to Emerald for an attempt at back-to-back victories in The Mile.
If victorious this Sunday, Point Piper will join Amble In (1946 and 1948), Trooper Seven (1980 and 1981), Simply Majestic (1988 and 1989) and Stryker Phd (2014 and 2015) as the only horses to have won multiple editions of the Longacres Mile.
Expected to head the local contingent of Longacres Mile runners this year is Mach One Rules. He will be seeking his third straight victory after taking Emerald’s Budweiser Stakes on June 18 and Mt. Rainier Stakes on July 16. Barkley was the beaten favorite in those two races, finishing a troubled fourth at 9-5 in the Budweiser and third at 7-5 in the Mt. Rainer when he had no visible excuse.
I do like it that Point Piper, at 121 pounds, will be getting two pounds this Sunday from Mach One Rules. I also like it that Point Piper does not have to concede any weight to Barkley, who likewise has been assigned 121 pounds.
While I think Point Piper has an excellent chance to win a second Longacres Mile this Sunday, I only wish that I again could watch the race alongside my father, whose love of horse racing proved instrumental to my own love of the sport.
BRAD McKINZIE DIES
I, along with many others in the Southern California racing community, learned the sad news last Sunday that Brad McKinzie had passed away following a battle with cancer, according to a Los Alamitos press release. He was 62.
Born in San Francisco, McKinzie was involved in many aspects of both Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing during his career that began in the 1970s. Most recently, he had served as the vice president and general manager of the Los Alamitos Racing Association. In that role, he oversaw the track’s expansion from a five-eighths oval to a one-mile oval. He also was instrumental in the construction of an additional 700 stalls at Los Al to provide an important venue for Thoroughbreds to train following the closure of Hollywood Park in 2013.
Early on, at various times, McKinzie was a groom, a racehorse owner and a track publicist. In 1984, McKinzie and Bruce Rimbo launched QuarterWeek magazine, which covered Quarter Horse racing through 1999. In the early 1990s, he worked as a general manager at Quarter Horse meetings at Los Alamitos and Hollywood Park.
Quite possibly McKinzie’s most important achievement in racing was his tireless work, along with business partner Michael Lyon, to establish The Finish Line Self Insurance Group in 2005. According to the Los Alamitos press release, this insurance entity provides workman’s compensation coverage for the jockeys, exercise riders and grooms for 99% of the entire Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industries in California.
McKinzie attended the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in the 1970s. One of his classmates was Bob Baffert. McKinzie and Baffert became lifelong friends.
“I have about five people that I would say are very close friends, people that I can share with my most personal thoughts, and Brad is one of them,” Baffert said. “My brothers and I met him in college and he became like a brother. My mother called Brad her fifth son. That’s how close we became. He’s the one that talked me into coming to Los Alamitos [from Arizona] to train Quarter Horses in 1983.”
It was McKinzie who introduced me to Baffert while I was at Los Alamitos for the Quarter Horse races one evening in 1988. It was before Baffert switched from training Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds. In 1988, I was working for the Racing Form as the chart-caller at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Fairplex.
I first got to know McKinzie when I had worked as a columnist and reporter for the Racing Form at Los Alamitos’ nighttime Orange County Fair meets each fall in the early 1980s. When I was visiting Los Al on that evening in 1988, I was standing by the winner’s circle between races when McKinzie and a white-haired fellow came up to me.
After McKinzie said hello to me, he introduced the white-haired fellow.
“This is Bob Baffert,” McKinzie said.
I shook Baffert’s hand. Although I had not met him prior to that, I did know he was a very successful Quarter Horse trainer.
McKinzie told Baffert that I worked for the Racing Form at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar.
“What brings you out here tonight?” Baffert asked.
“I came out here tonight to bet on See Me Do It,” I said.
“I don’t blame you,” Baffert said. “She’s a cinch.”
I thought it was interesting for Baffert to say that. He trained one of See Me Do It’s opponents.
See Me Do It won easily, just barely missing the track record. Baffert’s horse, who was a longshot, finished third.
How good was See Me Do It? She was the AQHA champion 2-year-old filly of 1988. The following year, See Me Do It won the prestigious Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos en route to be acclaimed AQHA champion 3-year-old filly, champion 3-year-old and AQHA World Champion.
Los Alamitos honored McKinzie with a touching special ceremony and a moment of silence prior to Sunday evening’s first race.
“Earlier this afternoon, Los Alamitos lost not only lost a valuable employee, but a great person who meant so much to the Los Alamitos racing community,” track announcer Ed Burghart said at the start of the tribute.
I will say that of all the people that I have known through my many years in racing, I have never encountered anyone nicer than Brad McKinzie. He will be missed by many.