December 1, 2023

Handicapping Insights: Hot Whitney winner and Cold Spa trainers

After a respectable sophomore campaign, Gun Runner has developed into a sensational performer at age 4 (Adam Coglianese Photography)


The $1.2 million Whitney (G1) was run last Saturday at Saratoga, and while the race has a glorious history, let’s just say that this year’s renewal was not one of its vintage ones. There was a point when the Whitney was a handicap, but most of those type of races have faded away since trainers are reluctant to race their stars under a high impost while spotting major weight to their rivals.

The only way last Saturday’s Whitney was going to be competitive was for it to be a handicap since GUN RUNNER was the heavy 3-5 favorite and, in retrospect, it looked like an overlay.

Saratoga was hit by thunderstorms Friday night and then around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, the sky opened up again. This was great news for Steve Asmussen who was worried sick about the main track and how it was going to play. It received plenty of moisture and then dried out when nearby thunderstorms missed the track.

So, with the track not a factor, the only thing that could stop him would be a poor break, but Florent Geroux took care of that and gunned him from post six into the clubhouse turn. He able to set up shop off CAUTIOUS GIANT through a first quarter in :23.89. Game over.

Gun Runner cruised down the backside as easy as he could and opened up on the far turn through six furlongs in 1:11.37. Nobody was coming and Geroux just applied modest pressure to keep him interested. He opened up a big lead in the stretch and won by 5 1/4 lengths over KEEN ICE who was not helped by the glib racing surface. Forget the rest.

Asmussen was able to take a big sigh of relief after the race and it’s now on to bigger and better things. He has come back from his trip to Dubai in great form, and with ARROGATE stubbing his toes at Del Mar, who knows how the rest of the year will go?

Saratoga bettors have a decision to make and if you get it wrong, it’s going to cost you big money. What do you do with a top trainer whose stable is ice cold? Do you avoid them at all costs or stay with them and catch the wave when they turn it around?

The two trainers that come to mind are Mark Casse and Robertino Diodoro. Through Sunday’s races, Mark Casse is one-for-40. Diodoro has still not won a race after 16 tries. And, it’s not like they came in here in poor form.

But for the two of them to only have one win at the meet is shocking. At the recently concluded Belmont Spring/Summer meet, Diodoro was 12-for-45. Casse was eight-for-47. Combined, that is 20-for-95. Through 15 days of racing at Saratoga, they are one-for-56.

Both of them are sending out live horses and as they used up conditions with wins at Belmont, they have to move up in class at Saratoga. But, they have burned a lot of money in the meantime and how far can you go?

Casse has it tough since he has many horses that run in the same conditions as perennial kingpins Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown. Diodoro can always drop horses in claiming races, but it’s not as easy as it looks since many trainers have been dropping their horses right from the start of the meet. Eight-way shakes have not been uncommon, so if you risk a claimer for a low price, bye bye. If you spot a good one to claim, you are not alone. Tough game.

Dick Powell handicaps New York tracks for You can find his Daily Selections for the Saratoga meet here