SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Gun Runner did what he was expected to do in Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga and now the stage is set for an old-fashioned East Coast-West Coast showdown with Arrogate for Horse of the Year in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
Taking over from pace-setting Neolithic midway on the far turn under Florent Geroux, Gun Runner galloped to a 10 1/4-length victory in the $750,000 Woodward, his third consecutive Grade 1 victory since returning from Dubai where he was beaten by Arrogate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, for his only defeat this year.
Gun Runner ($2.70) covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.43, the fastest of 12 Woodwards run at Saratoga -- Liam's Map ran 1:47.44 in 2015 -- and the fastest since Ghostzapper ran 1 1/8 miles at Belmont in 1:46.38 in 2004. Ghostzapper won the Breeders' Cup Classic that year.
"He stepped up," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "We all know what's happened over the last couple of weeks" he added, referring to losses by Arrogate in the Pacific Classic and Songbird in the Personal Ensign.
"This was our last race leading into the Breeders' Cup," Asmussen added. "I thought that it went as well as we could have hoped. Now if we can get out to California in good shape and try to finish off the year."
The Classic means a showdown with Arrogate, who, despite two losses at Del Mar, remains a major contender for Horse of the Year based on victories earlier this season in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January and the $10 million Dubai World Cup, where he overcame a disastrous start to fly past Gun Runner in the stretch.
Saturday, there was no one who was going to fly by Gun Runner. Though he broke sharp under Florent Geroux, Gun Runner had to settle for second position heading into the turn, as Neolithic, under Jose Ortiz, was intent on the lead. Neolithic, who finished third behind Arrogate and Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup, ran an opening quarter in 23.20 seconds and a half-mile in 46.56 with Gun Runner two lengths off the pace.
Gun Runner moved within a half-length of Neolithic at after six furlongs in 1:10.45, at which point Geroux thought to himself "it was just a matter of how many lengths am I going to win [by]," he said.
The answer was 10 1/4 lengths over Rally Cry, with Neolithic another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. War Story and Discreet Lover completed the order of finish.
Four weeks ago, Gun Runner won the Grade 1 Whitney here, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.71, which was the fastest Whitney in a decade.
"That was better than the Whitney, just stronger, faster overall," Geroux said. "I don't think he's 100-percent cranked up yet. I really do think we have another step forward with him. We're going to need one against Arrogate."
Gun Runner, owned in partnership by Three Chimneys Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds, improved his record to 10-3-2 from 17 starts and pushed his career earnings to $5,738,500.
Asmussen said he wants to get Gun Runner to Southern California relatively early, but noting that temperatures out west are forecasted near 100 degrees this week, Asmussen said he will likely take Gun Runner back to Churchill Downs for two or three weeks before the Breeders' Cup.