Gun Runner tough to go against in Woodward Stakes
by Dick Powell
Is there any way GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride) can lose Saturday’s Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga? I would love to try to find a way to beat him but just can’t see it happening.
Only four older males dare to line up against the earner of $5.28 million and counting. Two of them tried in the Whitney Stakes (G1) four weeks ago: WAR STORY (Northern Afleet) was beaten 13 lengths and DISCREET LOVER (Repent) was beaten 14 lengths.
That leaves us with a pair of interesting Todd Pletcher trainees. NEOLITHIC (Harlan’s Holiday) could not win here as a three-year-old going seven furlongs but has improved since adding blinkers and stretching out to two turns. He was second in the Discovery (G3) on the Aqueduct main track in November, then won an allowance race by nine lengths at Gulfstream Park.
Not afraid to dodge anyone, Neolithic took on ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song) and CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) and he pressed the pace to hang on for third. From there Pletcher sent him to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) and he was a good third behind Arrogate and Gun Runner.
Off for four months, Neolithic returned here going seven furlongs as the 7-10 favorite, and was life and death to get up by a neck. He draws the rail with leading rider Jose Ortiz but he will have to use his natural speed to take advantage of the speed-bias going nine furlongs on the Spa’s main track. If he moves forward, he might hang around. If that prep race sets him back, he’s in a lot of trouble.
Pletcher’s other runner is RALLY CRY (Uncle Mo). He began this year off a nine-month layoff with a good second going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park in March. From there he won an allowance race at Belmont Park, and Pletcher could not resist the temptation of the lucrative Met Mile (G1) on the undercard of the June 10 Belmont Stakes (G1) but he tired badly after six furlongs.
After stubbing his toe, Pletcher brought Rally Cry up here for the Alydar Stakes and he was a dominant winner in fast time which earned a BRIS Speed rating of 109 – better than Gun Runner’s last two wins.
Rally Cry gets four pounds from Gun Runner and Johnny Velazquez has to make some quick decisions going into the short run of the first turn. Does he try to beat Gun Runner into it or sit right off of him from his post right outside of him?
There’s no real money to be made here but if I do play, it will be a stone-cold exacta of Gun Runner over Rally Cry.
A post position oddity that occurs regularly is how bad post one does going two turns on Saratoga’s inner turf course. You would think that the rail would be an advantage, enabling the horse to save ground and find the shortest path around the two, tight turns of the inner. But, the numbers say otherwise.
There has been 31 races run on the inner turf course at one mile and only one has won from the rail. In fact, wide posts do much better.
There has been 28 races run on the inner turf course at 1 1/16 miles and only one has won from the rail. So combined, in 59 races on the inner turf course at the commonly-run distance of one mile and 1 1/16 miles, only two winners have come from the rail.
At the beginning of the meet, the first 28 races going 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon turf course saw the horse drawing post one getting shut out. Since then, for whatever reason, the rail in turf sprints has produced six winners for a win percentage of 12 percent, which is about what you would expect considering field size.