June 18, 2024

Gun Runner fires warning shot at Arrogate with Stephen Foster score

Gun Runner wired the Stephen Foster by a stakes-record margin and nearly equaled the track record (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

Gun Runner was no match for Arrogate in either the Travers Stakes (G1) or Dubai World Cup (G1), but outside the champion three-year-old male’s shadow Gun Runner shined brightest in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) — a win and you’re in race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Gun Runner went right to the front under jockey Florent Geroux in his first start since March 25 when second to Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup. Gun Runner then fought off multiple challenges through fast fractions before coasting home in a hand ride seven lengths to the good of Honorable Duty. The margin was the largest in the history of the race, and his time for 1 1/8 miles, 1:47.56, was just off Victory Gallop’s track record of 1:47.28 set in the 1999 Stephen Foster.

“[Trainer] Steve Asmussen gave Gun Runner the time he needed, and he just started touting himself that he was ready to return to the races,” assistant Scott Blasi said. “They tell you when they’re ready, and having a really good horse helps the adjustment from Dubai.”

It’s an adjustment team Asmussen knows well, as Horse of the Year Curlin returned victorious in the Stephen Foster after winning the Dubai World Cup at age four.

Although trainer Bob Baffert hinted when in New York for the Belmont Stakes (G1) that Saratoga Race Course is not out of the question for Arrogate, that colt is likely to make his first start since Dubai in the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club — site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. The Pacific Classic (G1) would then likely be next in following a similar schedule to last year when Arrogate won the Travers in late August and then the Classic.

Gun Runner is for sure Saratoga bound with the Breeders’ Cup Classic his ultimate goal. Possible races at Saratoga could include the Whitney (G1) and/or Woodward Stakes (G1).

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Blasi said. “Obviously the goal is the Classic, and there are some nice races at Saratoga to think about.”

The win bolsters Gun Runner’s mark to 8 wins from 15 starts, including a 2-for-3 mark this year. His career earnings are now in excess of $2.7-million.

Honorable Duty ran on for second and now has two wins from four starts with two seconds this year. Breaking Lucky was a long way back in third.