Since the turn of the century, Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes (G1) has played host to six Horse of the Year winners (Saint Liam, Ghostzapper, Mineshaft, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, and Havre de Grace) and two Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winners (Saint Liam and Ghostzapper). With his chief rival for both of those titles (Arrogate) having lost his last two races, Gun Runner will look to take his winning streak to three in this year’s Woodward in hopes of joining that elite group.
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm and trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner will also be in search of his fourth Grade I victory.
One of the leading three-year-old colts last year, Gun Runner missed an intended start in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) when his winter base, Fair Grounds Racetrack, was quarantined due to an EHV-1 outbreak. Unaffected by the virus itself, the son of Candy Ride continued to train and made his 2017 debut in the Razorback Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park once the quarantine was lifted. Sent off as the 1-5 favorite, Gun Runner demolished his overmatched opponents by 5 ¾ lengths.
Following that win, he shipped halfway across the world to Meydan Racetrack for the coveted Dubai World Cup (G1). After establishing a relatively easy lead early, Gun Runner looked home free halfway down the stretch, only to be overhauled late by Arrogate. However, since that race, it seems as if Gun Runner has only gotten better with each start, while Arrogate has been struggling to find the winners’ circle.
Showing no signs of fatigue from his travels, the striking chestnut cantered to an effortless win in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs, winning by 7 lengths in his first start since returning from Dubai. He followed that race up with another easy win, this time in the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. He led the whole way in both races and finished the Whitney with Cautious Giant’s shoe in his tail.
While it seems unlikely Gun Runner will lose on Saturday, they run the race for a reason, and it seems both of his chief rivals come from the barn of Todd Pletcher in Neolithic and Rally Cry.
Owned by Qatar Racing and Starlight Racing, Neothlithic is in search of his first graded stakes win. Once considered a contender for the Kentucky Derby (G1) after an impressive maiden win in December of his 2-year-old season, the son of Harlan’s Holiday never quite found his form as a 3-year-old last year.
He seems to have come back bigger, stronger and faster this year — opening his season with thirds in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the Dubai World Cup (G1). Illness kept him away for a while after those races, but he returned with a hard-fought allowance win on Whitney day, a race that he obviously needed.
Owned by Paul Pompa Jr., Rally Cry, like Neothlic, was well thought of after a victory to close out his juvenile season. And also like Neolithic, he never quite found his form last year as a 3-year-old. The son of Curlin began this year with a second in an allowance event before winning at that same level in his next start. He then finished a disappointing sixth in the Met Mile (G1), before coming back to win the Alydar Stakes by 8 ¾ lengths on Aug. 6.
Looch Racing Stables Inc., Glenn Ellis and Imaginary Stables’ Grade II winner War Story, trained by Jorge Navarro, has had a bit of controversy surrounding him going into the race. His primary owner Ron Paolucci tried to enter May B in the race as a rabbit (pacemaker) for War Story, but the entry was denied by the NYRA stewards.
When asked about the decision to bar the entry steward Stephen Lewandowski said, “We feel all horses that enter should be able to win the race.”
To put that into perspective May B has never won at a level higher than a $30,000 starter allowance affair and hasn’t raced farther than 5 ½ furlongs since July of 2015.
New York stewards do have the discretion to bar any horse from any race under state rule 4052.2 which states that “the nominations or entries of any person … may be canceled or revoked without notice by the racing association or in the discretion of the commission or of the stewards.”
The remaining entrant in the race is Discreet Lover, owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis. He has yet to even hit the board at the graded stakes level.