The end of the Saratoga meet marks the official end of summer for horseplayers. Closing weekend at the Spa will feature the $750,000 Woodward Stakes and the return of the top ranked North American thoroughbred, Gun Runner. Gun Runner will take on only 4 foes in this 1-1/8 mile event over the 2 turn dirt course.
Gun Runner is a prohibitive 2-5 morning line favorite and it will take some imagination to try and beat him, but that’s our task this week. He is also breaking from an advantageous inside post in this small field which is a huge plus in the short run to the first turn. Early inside speed has been the play in 9 furlong races at Saratoga. But before we give the trophy to Gun Runner, let us be reminded that Secretariat was upset in this race during his Triple Crown season in 1973.
With the exception of the outside horse, Discreet Lover, the rest of the field is filled with solid credentials, and if any of them take a step forward while Gun Runner takes a small step back, we could have an upset winner.
From the inside we have Todd Pletcher trainee Neolithic, who is stretching out off of a narrow 7f victory in a conditioned allowance race. Prior to that he finished 5 lengths behind Gun Runner (and 2-1/4 more behind Arrogate) in Dubai. And let’s not forget his 3rd place finish in the inaugural Pegasus at Gulfstream. He ran a favorable inside trip that day and could not compete with Gun Runner. Whether or not he can win, his early foot will have an impact on the race.
The #3, Rally Cry, another from the Pletcher barn, is a precarious 5-2 2nd choice. He is coming off of an 8 length victory in a restricted $100,000 non-graded stake race at Saratoga where he stalked monster fractions and drew off as the $0.75-1 favorite. As impressive as this win was, the level of competition doesn’t compare so I will have my doubts at such a short price. Rally Cry is 0-2 in graded stakes finishing 6th in both graded tries.
The #4, War Story, was beaten 13 lengths by Gun Runner in The Whitney where he saved all of the ground and had nothing left when swung out in the lane. Loooch Racing had tried to enter another horse, May B, into the race to act as a rabbit for War Story but the Saratoga stewards denied the entry. This rabbit would have been coming in off of a 2nd place finish in a $35,000 claiming race at Del Mar. Kudos to the Saratoga stewards.
This race is all about Gun Runner. I don’t think he will need his best to beat this field. With an advantageous post and no other speed to run away from him, I see this race setting up as the closest thing to a walkover since Spectacular Bid won the Woodward in an actual walkover in 1980.
With the expectation of such a prohibitive favorite, the folks at Saratoga have eliminated show wagering, eliminating the hope for a bridge jumping show bettors. So for my wagering dollars, I will play an ice-cold exacta with Gun Runner over Neolithic. I don’t expect a big price, but cashing a small ticket always beats tearing one up.