Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimney's Gun Runner delivered on his reputation as one of the top older males in the country, picking up his second straight Grade 1 with a 5 ¼-length score as the heavy 3-5 favorite in Saturday's 90th running of the $1.2 million Whitney, the traditional focal race for older horses at the 149th Saratoga Race Course meet.
With his regular jockey Florent Geroux aboard, Gun Runner outbroke his competition and raced into contention early, settling two lengths behind expected pacesetter Cautious Giant, who took the field of seven through the opening quarter-mile in 23.89 seconds and the half in 48.31. At the half-mile pole, Geroux let his charge out a notch and he quickly assumed the lead. Six furlongs went in 1:11.37 as the 4-year-old Candy Ride colt rounded the far turn with a two-length advantage over Breaking Lucky and Tu Brutus.
In front by three lengths at the top of the stretch, the Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner drew well clear through the stretch under a hand ride. He completed the 1 1/8-mile contest in a sharp final time of 1:47.71.
Keen Ice, the 3-1 second choice, rallied from last to secure second, finishing 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Breaking Lucky in third. It was another seven lengths back to War Story, followed by Discreet Lover, Tu Brutus, and Cautious Giant to complete the order of finish.
"My horse broke super sharp today from the gate," said Geroux. "I could have gone to the lead if I wanted to, but I just stayed cover until the five-eighths pole and from there the race was pretty much over. My horse was just on cruise control from all the way from there and then I just gave him a tap around the 1/8 pole to make sure he stayed focused but there was not even a need for that."
The winner carried the field's high weight of 124 pounds plus Cautious Giant's lost horseshoe, which had become dislodged on the backside and became tangled in Gun Runner's tail.
Gun Runner returned $3.20 on a $2 win wager.
Already armed with an all-fees-paid berth into the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic on November 4 at Del Mar for his seven-length romp in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, Gun Runner took his second straight "Win and You're In" qualifying event in the Whitney.
The Whitney marked the fourth straight U.S. victory for Gun Runner, also including a gutsy score over older horses in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last fall. Two starts back, Gun Runner, who entered Saturday's race ranked third in Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings and second in NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, finished second to top-ranked Arrogate in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in March.
"He's spoiling us, he really is," said the chestnut colt's Hall of Fame conditioner. "He went about his business and Florent gave him a flawless ride. We talked about the pace scenario with a possible rabbit, but we wanted him to wait and not take away from what got him here. He got away cleanly, he handled nicely, he didn't let that horse disrupt the rhythm he was in. Florent showed a lot of confidence in him to take the lead when he did. There's a lot of pressure under those circumstances when there's a horse entered for pace for him. When he let him drop off into the second turn there, he showed a lot of confidence in the horse. As you saw how he went by the wire, Florent knows him really well.
"For him to win a race of quality of the Whitney at Saratoga under the pressure that Saratoga brings only elevates his status," added Asmussen. "The crowd that is here, going over walking from the Oklahoma side by the racetrack through the holding barn though the crowd. The attention that is given to a horse of his caliber adds up. The attention is not sneaking up on you and I thought he handled it well. He ran a dynamite race with a very good time over the racetrack here."