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All eyes on Gun Runner in Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney

by NYRA Press Release

August 5, 2017

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimney's multiple Grade 1 winner Gun Runner will attempt to bolster his status as one of the top older horses in the world, wearing the target as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in a field of seven for the Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney, the traditional focal race for older horses in the 149th Saratoga Race Course meet.

A "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic on November 4 at Del Mar, the 90th running of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney anchors an outstanding day of live racing Saturday that also includes the Grade 1, $500,000 Test, the Grade 3, $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Waya, the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose and the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure.

Currently ranked third in Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings and second in NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, Gun Runner underscored his impressive runner-up finish to top-ranked Arrogate in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in March with a front-running, seven-length win in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 17 at Churchill Downs.

The Foster marked the third straight U.S. victory for the 4-year-old Candy Ride colt, who has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 110 or higher in each of his last three domestic races, including a gutsy score over older horses in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last fall.

Following a light 2-year-old campaign, Gun Runner emerged as a highly respectable contender on the 2016 Triple Crown trail with Kentucky Derby prep wins in the Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby before finishing third in the "Run for the Roses" that May. He rebounded five weeks later in the Grade 3 Matt Winn, leading every step of the way to draw off to a 5 ¼-length victory.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner went on to hit the board in three subsequent graded stakes, including a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Travers, coming in 15 lengths behind Arrogate's record margin, and a runner-up effort while facing older horses for the first time in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He returned on November 25 in the Clark at Churchill Downs and led gate-to-wire for the first time since his Matt Winn victory, rolling to a 2 ¾-length advantage to pick up his first Grade 1.

"He's always improving," said his regular jockey Florent Geroux. "I tell the owners every time I ride him, he always comes back a better horse after each start. It's pretty special when you ride a horse like this for over a year now. I really think he's been great with how he's training right now."

Geroux will be aboard Gun Runner, who boasts a 8-3-2 record from 15 starts and $4.6 million in career earnings, set to break from post 6.

"He's done us proud," said Asmussen. "He's a horse who has had success from the one-hole in multiple occasions. I thought he ran a pretty good race last year in the Travers from the 14 [post] over the race track, so the post should not hinder him one way or the other.

Leading the charge against Gun Runner is Donegal Racing and Calumet Farm's graded stakes winner Keen Ice for trainer Todd Pletcher.

After finishing a nonthreatening seventh in the Dubai World Cup, the 5-year-old son of Curlin made a successful stateside return with a three-length victory in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 8 at Belmont Park, his first win since upsetting Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the 2015 Grade 1 Travers, both at 1 ¼ miles.

Much of Keen Ice's 22-month dry spell came on some of racing's biggest stages. Following the Travers, he faced Grade 1 competition in his next five starts, taking another shot at American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing fourth to the eventual Horse of the Year, and turning in a pair of lackluster efforts the following spring in Dubai.

Transferred to Pletcher, Keen Ice returned to the races after a six-month layoff, using a late-running on-the-board finish in an optional claiming contest to prep for the 2016 Breeders' Cup, where he finished third behind Eclipse Award winners Arrogate and California Chrome.

Prior to the Dubai World Cup, Keen Ice started his 5-year-old campaign with a bid in the inaugural Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational, finishing a distant fourth to Arrogate.

"He was coming back from Dubai [in the Suburban], running a mile and a quarter off a bit of a layoff, so those things are always a concern but we felt like he was training well," said Pletcher, a three-time Whitney winner with Left Bank (2002), Lawyer Ron (2007) and Cross Traffic (2013). "Obviously, we were very pleased with that race. He seemed to come out of it great and he's been training well for this.

"I think it was important for him to win another race," he added. "It had been a little while since he had won and he had run competitively in some races that were probably less than ideal for him. Like a mile and a sixteenth at Gulfstream is probably not his ideal kind of track, it's kind of a speed-favoring track, so it was great to get another big win for him. The only think I'd like to change is make the Whitney a mile and a quarter. I think he's best a mile and a quarter, but it's a mile and an eighth, so hopefully we can get an honest pace to run at and he can overcome it."

Jose Ortiz, who was aboard for the Suburban win, has the return call. Installed as the 3-1 second choice, the pair will leave from post 5.

The speedy Chilean-bred Tu Brutus will shorten up in distance following his on-the-board finish in the 1 ½-mile Grade 2 Brooklyn at Belmont Park.

The 5-year-old chestnut by Scat Daddy boasted eight victories in his native Chile, including a four-stakes win streak, where he was victorious from a mile to 1 1/8 miles by a combined 26 ¼ lengths through the summer and fall of 2016.

At the close of his 4-year-old campaign, Tu Brutus was purchased privately for $175,000 and transferred to trainer Gary Contessa by new owners Winning Move Stable, Green, Saltor Thoroughbred Stables, and Pine Stables, et al.

Tu Brutus' ability was put on display in his first start for his new connections when he finished second in the Grade 3 Excelsior, a half-length behind Send It In, on April 8 at Aqueduct Racetrack, to earn a 118 Beyer Speed Figure. He came back in May to post an eye-catching victory in the in the 1 3/8-mile Flat Out at Belmont, drawing off by 11 lengths.

Contessa said Tu Brutus was given extra time after he came down with a guttural pouch infection following the Brooklyn, where he gave up the lead early and finished a comfortable third as the 2-5 favorite on June 10.

"In his last start, where he didn't deliver at 2-5, he had a guttural infection in his nasal passage, so I mean that's definitely one of the ones you can put a line through," said Contessa. "I think we'll be between 10- and 15-1, but I mean he ran 109 Beyer two starts ago, and a 118 Beyer before that. I'm excited that I have a chance, I'm not going in with a longshot who has no chance, I'm going in with a very good horse.

"If you look at his races at a mile and a sixteenth, mile and an eighth in Chile, he was very powerful," he added. "He sat back off the pace two or three lengths and just exploded when the rider asked so I think he'll rate, and I think he'll be fine at a mile and an eighth."

Tu Brutus, at 8-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 4.

Listed as the 6-1 third-choice is Loooch Racing Stable, Glenn Ellis and Imaginary Stable's War Story, exiting a 2 ½-length win in the Brooklyn.

War Story will be making his fifth start for trainer Jorge Navarro, who has conditioned the 5-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet to fifth-place finishes in the Pegasus and Grade 3 Fred Hooper at Gulfstream Park in March, as well as a hard-fought third-place effort in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on April 22.

War Story, who drew post 1 and will be ridden by Javier Castellano, could get some pace assistance from fellow Loooch Racing and Imaginary-owned Cautious Giant from the barn of Anthony Quartarolo.
Cautious Giant, a 6-year-old gelding by Giant's Causeway, has five lifetime wins, all at distances of seven furlongs or less.

At 30-1 on the morning line, Cautious Giant will be ridden by Jose Bracho, a seven-pound apprentice rider making his stakes debut. The pair will depart from post 3.

Gunpowder Farms, West Point Thoroughbreds, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, R.A. Hill Stable, et al's Breaking Lucky will look to turn the tables on the Whitney favorite after finishing second to Gun Runner in the Clark in the fall and third in the Stephen Foster last time out.

Under the care of two-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Reade Baker, the 5-year-old Ontario-bred son of Lookin At Lucky is aiming for his first win since his three-quarter-length score in the Grade 3 Seagram Cup in August 2016 at Woodbine, and first win on the dirt since posting a neck victory over Shaman Ghost in the 2015 Prince of Wales.

In his only prior Saratoga appearance, Breaking Lucky finished a close fourth in the 2016 Grade 1 Woodward, checking in a neck behind Shaman Ghost.

Breaking Lucky, 8-1, will break from post 2 with Luis Contreras aboard.

"I thought [the Woodward] was the best race of his career," said Dean Reeves of Reeves Thoroughbred Racing. "He seems to like the track very well, it seems to set up for him, and we're hoping for a big day.

"Breaking Lucky has been very consistent," he added. "He breaks well out of the gate so I think we'll be in there, but I don't think we're going to jump right out on the lead. There's some speed in here and I hope that crazy things happen on Saturday."

Rounding out the field for the Whitney is Trin-Brook Stable's multiple stakes-placed Discreet Lover, exiting a third-place finish in the Carl Hanford Memorial on July 15 at Delaware Park.

Discreet Lover, 25-1, will be ridden by Eric Cancel from post 7.