Gun Runner bidding to fire a shot across Arrogate's bows
Preview: USA, Saturday 11.46pm BST (live on ATR)
Saratoga: Woodward Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo+
A controversy over a 'rabbit' – or a lack thereof – has gained more headlines than anything else in the run-up to the Woodward Stakes, the $750,000 highlight of the closing weekend at Saratoga in which Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen/Florent Geroux) will bid to underline his Breeders' Cup Classic credentials.
With Arrogate's claim on the crown looking a bit shaky after a pair of defeats at Del Mar, Gun Runner is rated the biggest threat in ante-post lists and is a best-priced 4-1 second favourite with William Hill for America's most prestigious contest.
After an authoritative success in the Grade 1 Whitney earlier in the Saratoga summer, the four-year-old will start long odds on for the Woodward – in which owner Ron Paolucci has been prevented from running a horse called May B after he revealed it would be acting as a pacemaker for outsider War Story, a late-running type who can surely win only if there is a pace meltdown. And even then, probably won't.
Similar tactics were employed to little avail in the Whitney, where Paolucci's Cautious Giant attempted to take Gun Runner out of his comfort zone by acting as a 'rabbit', to use the US parlance, and taking him on up front.
Paolucci said he informed stewards of the intention to try the same thing with May B, only for the stewards to employ a rule allowing them discretion to deny entries.
Stewards have the discretion
“We feel all horses that enter should be able to win the race,” said New York steward Stephen Lewandowski.
Whether the move may be extended to other races under the jurisdiction of the New York Racing Association is unclear; stewards also have the discretion to 'couple' horses in the same ownership as betting interests on the pari-mutuel.
"I’m not trying to make a mockery of the race," said Paolucci, speaking to the Blood-Horse. "I love the sport. I don’t want this to be the headline for the race."
Main rivals to Dubai World Cup runner-up Gun Runner are the Todd Pletcher-trained pair Neolithic (Jose Ortiz) and Rally Cry (John Velazquez), both of whom have scored at a minor level at Saratoga at the current meeting. They each get a few pounds from the favourite.
North America's first Grade 1s for two-year-olds take place on either coast on Saturday, with the Spinaway Stakes (11.11pm) at Saratoga and the Del Mar Debutante (1.10am Sunday). Both races are for fillies; the colts' versions are due up later this weekend.