Gun Runner brings us back to reality

Horse Racing

When Arrogate declined to perform in the San Diego Handicap two weeks ago, I suspect the connections of more than just a few second-tier handicap horses suddenly entertained hopes of having a much bigger fall than they might have originally been expecting.

Well, those fantasies were jolted back to reality Saturday when Gun Runner dominated the Whitney at Saratoga. If Arrogate should for some reason fail to reproduce his brilliant pre-San Diego ‘cap form — a scenario I am certainly not anticipating — then the older male division would still have to go through Gun Runner, and that is a daunting alternative.

While an on-his-game Arrogate is in a different league than Gun Runner, as proven when they met in the Dubai World Cup and in last year’s Travers, Gun Runner is clearly a significant cut above the rest of the older dirt male division.

Gun Runner won the Whitney the way you want to see a top horse do so. But it had nothing to do with having to deal with a rabbit in Cautious Giant, the pacemaker for War Story. As rabbits go, Cautious Giant was not a good one.

When Cautious Giant couldn’t even produce fast early fractions to make Gun Runner’s task more complicated — the Whitney half-mile fraction of 48.31 seconds was slow with a capital “S” on a Saratoga main track that was truly fast Saturday — he threw a shoe in his general direction, which became entangled in Gun Runner’s tail. It wasn’t intentional, of course, and in the end it meant little. But it meant more than what Cautious Giant did as a pacemaker, which says something about that.

No, the most impressive aspect to Gun Runner’s performance was that he walloped his Whitney field precisely the way he was supposed to, powerfully pulling away to score by more than five lengths in a strong 1:47.71 for the nine furlongs, good enough for his seventh straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in the U.S., and eighth straight if you want to count his second in the Dubai World Cup.

Gun Runner is likely to run back on the last Saturday of the Saratoga meet in the Woodward. And that only makes me wish the notion of flipping the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Woodward on the calendar was a reality.

If the Gold Cup were run the last Saturday at Saratoga, it would be restored to a true two-turn 1 1/4-mile race, it would become a much more appealing Breeders’ Cup Classic prep, and, it being a furlong longer, it would be truly distinct from the Whitney as opposed to the nine-furlong Woodward, which is too much like the Whitney.

Most importantly, it would resurrect the once-great Gold Cup, which was the Breeders’ Cup Classic before the Breeders’ Cup was born. Here’s hoping the New York Racing Association and The Jockey Club see it the same way and make this simple but potentially terrific switch in the not-too-distant future.

* Domination was the theme Saturday at Saratoga as American Gal turned in a terrific performance running away with the Grade 1 Test Stakes.

American Gal was stacked four to five wide throughout the Test, which might have been too much to overcome if the Saratoga main track was rail-biased Saturday as it had been on several prior days. The track was even, but that was still a tremendous amount of ground to concede in as competitive a race as the Test. Yet American Gal left her field reeling in the final furlong, scoring by four lengths, a commanding margin under any circumstance, but even more so in this case.

I know we’re still a long way out, but right now this year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint is looking loaded, with American Gal, Unique Bella (who might be the most talented 3-year-old filly in very a deep division), and such older hard hitters as Paulassilverlining, Finley’sluckycharm, By the Moon, and Carina Mia, to name a few.

* It’s incredibly disappointing that tracks still don’t know any better, but it was outrageous that the Whitney and the West Virginia Derby — the two richest races run Saturday — were run simultaneously.

For what it’s worth, the Whitney went precisely on its scheduled post time, which was locked in due to a national television commitment. The West Virginia Derby had no such commitment, and it went off well past its scheduled post time.

But I don’t care about assigning blame. Simply, this is one major issue that should never be. Running races simultaneously is incredibly short-sighted from a business standpoint, it infuriates the fans the game already has, and can only be an instant turn-off for potential new fans.

This is not football, with eight three-hour games going off at once. These were two races that were completed in less than two minutes. And as long as the day is, it is disgraceful that these two races — again, the two richest races on a summer Saturday — “found” the same two-minute window.

It’s bad enough that races on major circuits go simultaneously every day of the racing week, but it is especially maddening when it happens in our showcase races. And it’s really troubling when there is even the whiff that a track might do this purposely.

Here’s a potential fix: When graded stakes races are run simultaneously, the race farthest from its scheduled post time loses its grade. With a hammer like that, watch how quickly tracks go out of their way not to step on each other.

* As usual, the West Virginia Derby was run on a Mountaineer main track with such an absurd dead rail bias that it almost renders the result inconclusive. For what it’s worth, Patch’s fourth as the favorite was better than it looks on paper as, for whatever reason, he spent much of the race closer to that dead inside than anyone else.

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