Gun Runner should be Breeders Cup favorite

Sep 5, 2017 3:01 AM

As both Saratoga and Del Mar closed their 2017 summer seasons on Monday, Labor Day, we should cite the most important accomplishments and issues that presented themselves at these two extraordinary racetracks.

First, as so often is the case, the very best performance often presents itself in one of the many stakes races on the final weekend.

This was the case at Saratoga, where Gun Runner turned in a sensational, relatively easy score in the $750K Woodward Stakes last Saturday.

Not only did Gun Runner win the 1-1/8 mile Woodward by several lengths, he posted a career-high 115 Beyer Speed Figure while hardly breaking a sweat.

Should anyone believe Arrogate still will deserve to be a clear betting favorite over Gun Runner – if and when they meet in the 1-1/4 mile, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4 – they have not been paying attention.

Arrogate certainly made a positive impression winning the 2016 Travers as a 3-year-old. He did even better when he dominated older horses in the 2016 BCup Classic and then became the world’s richest Thoroughbred this past winter (with $17 million in career earnings), by winning the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and the $10 million Dubai World Cup. Yet, realistic doubts about his present form have been raised after suffering two defeats at the current Del Mar race meet.

Right now, even though I have enormous respect for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the lingering question is whether Arrogate can recover his world class form? Or, will Baffert decide to retire Arrogate, should he not see exactly what he needs to see?

After watching Gun Runner score three Grade-1 wins this year, Arrogate will have to be at his best to handle that rival in November. As such, Baffert not only has serious work in front of him, it is worth noting Arrogate’s two recent losses at Del Mar just might mean he does not like running on that racing surface.

Otherwise, the simultaneous completion of both the 2017 summer seasons at Saratoga and Del Mar on Monday requires a peek into a few important stats and facts.

When all counts are completed, it is highly likely Saratoga will have set new attendance and wagering records with more than one million live fans and more $650 million in total wagering handle.

Del Mar, on the other hand, has been showing a solid eight percent increase in wagering compared to 2016 figures, despite a modest  three percent drop in overall attendance.

In the Saratoga jockey race, the Ortiz brothers, Jose and Irad Jr., have been neck and neck for the top spot throughout the season. Last week, Jose opened up a bit on his brother to seem likely to finish as the Saratoga meet leader in their private duel. Meanwhile, bettors should also notice jockey John R. Velazquez scored with more than 27 percent of his mounts to lead Saratoga in that somewhat underrated, but important category.

Among Saratoga trainers there has been a meet long battle between Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher. Brown was the leading trainer at Saratoga in 2016, but as we reached Saratoga’s final 2017 weekend, Brown was slightly behind Pletcher for this year’s title. With Pletcher entering more horses than Brown for Monday’s final racing card, he seemed the clear favorite to displace Brown as this year’s top Saratoga trainer.

Beyond those two who averaged 25 percent winners apiece, Linda Rice won with a solid 23 percent of her starters and Billy Mott was the third leading money winning trainer with nearly $2 million for the meet.

There also has been a tight race for top trainer at Del Mar. Going into the final weekend, last year’s top trainer Phil D’Amato was tied with Richard Baltas with 17 victories apiece, as Peter Miller and Mark Glatt each had 15.

In the Del Mar jockey’s race, last year’s top jockey, Flavien Pratt was slightly ahead of his co-champion from last year, Rafael Bejarano, as apprentice jockey Evin Roman was close behind. Kent Desormeaux and Drayden Van Dyke also had great Del Mar meetings winning with more than 18 percent of their respective mounts.

As for the top 2-year-olds seen so far this season, it is somewhat disappointing to report the Beyer Speed Figures have been below par, especially at Saratoga, where the top rated juveniles have so far tried to stretch their respective talents from the 6 furlong distance to the next stop, 7 furlongs.

On Saturday, for one important illustration, Lady Ivanka won the $350K Spinaway Stakes at that distance to earn a paltry 66 Beyer. While it remains possible dramatic improvements may occur as these young horses begin to mature, it remains to be seen if any 2-year-old on either coast will score a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90-100 range.