Gun Runner still firing on Arrogate

Gun Runner still firing on Arrogate

August 08, 2017 3:00 AM
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When Gun Runner easily defeated good competition in the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, he earned a career best 112 Beyer Speed Figure. Yet, moments after the Whitney my thoughts turned to the horse Gun Runner has failed to beat in their two prior meetings.

That horse of course is Arrogate, who inexplicably finished a distant fourth at extremely low 1-20 odds in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar 2-1/2 weeks ago. As many fans know, Arrogate seemed to deserve his heavy pari-mutuel support after four highly rated victories in rich stakes that began 12 months ago with his upset tally in the 2016 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Following that score, Arrogate’s string of exceptional performances included a highly rated victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last November that left him just a few votes shy of being declared 2016 Horse of the Year. Resuming his career in January, Arrogate not only won the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, he then posted a clear cut triumph over Gun Runner two months later in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Before his shocking flop in the San Diego, Arrogate had won seven straight and $17 million in career earnings, most by a thoroughbred in racing history.

Seldom willing to shift the blame to others, Arrogate’s Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert immediately stated his star colt’s poor performance, “might have occurred because I didn’t have him fit enough for the race.” A few days later, Baffert added that he could see “nothing physically wrong with the colt.”

Encouraged by Arrogate’s sharp workout over the Del Mar racing surface last week, Baffert now believes we will see “the real Arrogate,” in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 19.

Although Arrogate’s recent poor effort might suggest he is vulnerable right now, there is no chance Gun Runner’s connections will ship 3,000 miles to face Arrogate in that $1 million race at Del Mar. This, even though there is a potentially valuable point of reference to consider relating to when another historically important champion suffered a seemingly similar poor performance.

That occurred in 1977, when Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew traveled west to run in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park only to finish just about as badly as Arrogate did in the San Diego. In the worst performance of his career, Seattle Slew finished a distant fourth behind J.O. Tobin, which virtually matched Arrogate’s recent failure. The caution here is to note Seattle Slew needed 10 months to recover from that thrashing before he returned to form as a 4-year-old.

Given all of this, Gun Runner’s solid victory at Saratoga on Saturday unquestionably sets the stage to such an extent that the racing world is sure to focus considerable speculation during the next two weeks on what Arrogate might or might not do in the Pacific Classic. This, even though the world’s first $1 million race – the Arlington Million – will be run for the 37th time on Saturday, while both Saratoga and Del Mar will continue to offer rich stakes races almost every day.

The attention will be there because Arrogate has been the single most sensational Thoroughbred seen in action in America for several decades!

Realistically, should there be anyone who does not want to know if we will see the Arrogate, who looked so unbeatable through his rich series of victories, I’d have to conclude said person probably will be watching meaningless off-season football games, not prime season horse races.

Should Arrogate actually recover his top form without needing a Seattle Slew-like vacation, we certainly will look forward to the terrific challenge Gun Runner could provide in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4. Gun Runner’s trainer Steve Asmussen, himself a member of Racing’s Hall of Fame, plans just one prep race for his fine 4-year-old colt before the Breeders’ Cup.

And, if Arrogate fails to return to top form, Gun Runner’s victory in the Whitney at Saratoga, along with a good performance in the BCup, will make him a heavy favorite to be named 2017 Horse of the Year.

Added Notes: In addition to Gun Runner’s 112 Beyer Figure, Cambodia earned a 98 Figure winning Del Mar’s $200K Yellow Ribbon for fillies and mares; Colonelsdarktemper earned a 95 Figure winning the $750K West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park; American Gal earned a 93 in Saratoga’s 7 furlong Test for 3-year-old fillies, and Spectator earned a modest 80 Figure winning Del Mar’s 6-1/2 furlong, $200K Sorrento for 2-year-olds.

On Sunday, the 6-year-old sprinter Green Mask impressively won the 5-1/2 furlong Troy Handicap on the Saratoga turf course in near record time. While no Speed Figure was available at press time, Green Mask seems certain to be a major threat in the BCup Turf Sprint.

Also on Sunday, 6-5 favorite Sharp Samurai narrowly defeated fast closing Fashion Business in Del Mar’s La Jolla Handicap. Both of these 3-year-old geldings certainly will bear watching in future grass stakes.