Connect, Gun Runner flatter Arrogate; Aqueduct observations

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TwinSpires Staff

December 1st, 2016

By Dick Powell

I can’t prove it but the Aqueduct main track, which concludes this Sunday for the switch to the inner dirt, seemed slow throughout the meet. Running times seemed to be off and speed did not seem to hold well.

It was not a stark bias but a nuanced one. On Saturday, the Cigar Mile (G1), Remsen Stakes (G2) and Demoiselle Stakes (G2) were all run on the slow side. Not the slowest we have seen in 20 years but in the bottom half of winning times for these races that have been run at the same distance. It was not an aberration last Saturday but prevalent for the meet.

Watching races every day, the Aqueduct main track seemed deeper than normal unless there was rain and the track was sealed and floated.

What I am most interested in the next couple of months is how do horses that tired after showing good speed while racing on the inside of the Aqueduct main track perform when they come back on the inner dirt track or, more importantly, the Gulfstream Park main track, which opens Saturday?

Both Gulfstream and the inner dirt track have strong speed-biased profiles so the horse that spun his wheels through the stretch on the inside of the Aqueduct main track should be able to carry his speed farther on those two surfaces. And the horse that rallied on the outside and got up in time while losing ground may have benefitted from racing on the best part of the track.

I have made it plain and clear that I think ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song) is absolutely awesome and better, in my humble opinion, than Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile). And if you watched the Clark Handicap (G1) and Cigar Mile (G1) last weekend, you can see why.

GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride) has had a terrific year and it was almost unfair that he had not won a major race in 2016. In the Travers Stakes (G1), he ran great from post 13 but was no match for Arrogate finishing third, beaten 14 lengths. He came back with a game second while racing wide in the $1,250,000 Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and wound up second again in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

In constant training since last year, Gun Runner had every right to go backwards in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs but he finally got a break when favorite NOBLE BIRD (Birdstone) was left at the start, leaving Gun Runner loose on the lead from the inside. He never looked back and finally got his Grade 1 stakes victory. The Clark win pushed his lifetime earnings over $2 million and the chestnut shows no signs of slowing down.

On Saturday, NYRA held the Cigar Mile and it attracted a wide open field of 10. The public made CONNECT (Curlin) the 3-to-2 favorite but in deep stretch, DIVINING ROD (Tapit) was still holding on gamely after opening a clear lead with an eighth of a mile remaining. Javier Castellano had Pennsylvania Derby winner Connect in a drive on the outside, probably the best part of the track, and the dark bay colt got up for a hard-earned head victory.

Not taking anything against the winners but here you have two 3YOs winning major Grade 1 stakes races against older rivals that were 14 and 21 lengths behind Arrogate in the Travers. Had they raced in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), I don’t think the results would have been much different. Arrogate is that good.

Speaking of Arrogate, there was a softening of his connection’s position toward the next start, increasing the chances he could wind up in the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup (G1) at the end of January. We would love to see a matchup between Arrogate and CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) at nine furlongs and can only hope emerging stars like CONNECT and GUN RUNNER will join them.