Steve Asmussen walked and waved. Then stopped.
“This is unbelievable,” Asmussen said. “So Saratoga.”
Rows and rows of fans in section A in the reserved clubhouse seats stood and cheered for Asmussen, moments after Gun Runner and jockey Florent Geroux rolled past in complete control of the 64th Woodward Stakes. Old men in sport coats called Asmussen’s name. Young women in jeans clapped. A man in a Joshua Tree T-shirt yelled for Asmussen like he was his kid brother. A teenager bellowed, “Gun Runnnnnnnnner,” over and over. It was a cacophony of whistling, clapping, yelling and saluting.
Asmussen looked across the seats again.
“So Saratoga,” he said, awed by the crowd
But it was Gun Runner who had awed the crowd.
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride toyed with four rivals, drawing off to win his third consecutive Grade 1 stakes by 10 1/4 lengths over Todd Pletcher’s pair Rally Cry and Neolithic. Gun Runner finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.43.
“He’s awesome, isn’t he?” Asmussen said as he entered the winner’s circle, a month after Gun Runner did the same thing in the Grade 1 Whitney.
Sent off as the 1/5 favorite, Gun Runner broke well from stall 2 as Geroux urged him lightly to make sure he kept his position between Neolithic on his left and Rally Cry on his right. Jose Ortiz asked Neolithic to take control and the third-choice rolled into the first turn with a length advantage over Gun Runner. With his foot firmly in the door, Geroux dialed it back a notch and sat still as a pillar, allowing Gun Runner’s natural speed to keep the perfect spot. John Velazquez kept Rally Cry on Gun Runner’s quarter as War Story drifted back to fourth and longshot Discreet Lover lagged last.
Neolithic posted the first quarter-mile in :23.20 and the half in :46.56 as Gun Runner settled 2 lengths off the pacesetter. Velazquez tried to keep in touch with Rally Cry but he had slid 2 lengths off Gun Runner as the field left the backstretch. After three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.45, Gun Runner rolled to and past Neolithic while the others tried to go up the down escalator.
To read the rest of the Woodward recap, download Sunday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special.