Woodward Stakes a Possibility for Gun Runner

On the heels of a 5 1/4-length victory in this past weekend’s $1.2 million Whitney Stakes (G1), Gun Runner’s connections are looking ahead to what is next, and that very well could be a start in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (G1) at the Saratoga Race Course on September 2nd.

“He’s fabulous, happy with himself, came back great,” reported trainer Steve Asmussen on his Gun Runner’s condition following the Whitney Stakes.

“(I only noticed it) once he slowed down,” recalled Asmussen of his charge’s Whitney Stakes performance. “We watched the tape repeatedly, repeatedly, and if you’ve never seen anything before, just wait around. Can you believe that? I mean if we tried to throw one and stick in one’s tail as he was standing, still we’d go 0-for-1,000—let alone at a run, let alone Gun Runner, let alone in the Whitney—and it stayed. (With) how fast he was going, it was held out from him, when he slowed down to walk, then it came into him. We were obviously unaware of it until he came back to the winner’s circle, but not a nick on him. I mean, there’s still nails in it.”

The Whitney win was Gun Runner’s second straight grade one victory, and his fourth win in a row on North American Soil. Asmussen believes the Woodward Stakes will be the next race out for Gun Runner. “It seems very probable with him running over the racetrack here (and) not having to travel again,” said Asmussen. “It would be ideal.”

2017 Pacific Classic Arrogate Songbird

Arrogate Prepares For 2017 Pacific Classic

The combination of Arrogate’s brutal fourt place finish in the San Diego Handicap, along with Gun Runner’s recent win in The Whitney, has many people wondering just who the best racehorse in the country actually is. It’s a typical debate between talent and production. To regain his footing in the discussion, Arrogate needs a top performance in the 2017 Pacific Classic.

Arrogate went back to work with his typical team in order to prepare for a race that should boast a very competitive field. Official splits for his recent drills included fractions of :25 1/5, :37 1/5, :48 2/5, 1:00 3/5, and 1:12 3/5. He was timed on the gallop out in 1:38 1/5. Everything seems to be pointed in the right direction.

“It was a serious work,” commented trainer Bob Baffert. “He didn’t need much encouragement. He’s showing no signs . He’s moving forward. I’ve seen a big difference in him since that last race. He’s back to his old self again.” This is good news for the horse that will undoubtedly enter the 2017 Pacific Classic as the favorite.

Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Arrogate for the brunt of his competitive career, also said that Arrogate, “Looked good. He galloped out strong.”

The field for the 2017 Pacific Classic is expected to include Accelerate, who handed Arrogate his first defeat in the 2017 San Diego Handicap. Collected and Curlin Road are also expected to fill the gates.

But the most anticipated rival to Arrogate will be Songbird, who has picked up two wins this year in the 2017 Ogden Phipps and the 2017 Delaware Handicap. This would be the second time in two years that the Pacific Classic featured a battle between the top male and female dirt runners in the world. Last year, California Chrome made short work of Beholder.

A month ago, this wouldn’t have even been up for debate. Songbird is an astounding talent, but Arrogate feels like he comes from another planet. However, there is a dent in that undefeated armor now and Arrogate’s strongest rivals will feel like there’s a chance to overtake the 2016 Horse of the Year. To be fair, Songbird didn’t look untoucachable in the Delaware as she barely outlasted Martini Glass for the win.

The 2017 Pacific Classic will run on Saturday, August 19th out of Del Mar Racetrack, the same venue as the 2017 Breeders’ Cup. We’ll have more coverage in the next two weeks on the big race.

Gun Runner Puts in Final Whitney Stakes Work

Grade one winner Gun Runner put in his final work in preparation for the August 5th Whitney Stakes (G1) by breezing a half-mile at Saratoga Race Course on the morning of July 30. He was timed completing the workout in :49.33.

The training session took place on the course’s Okalahoma training track. The four-year-old colt was timed at fractions of :12 4/5 and :25 1/5. He galloped to five furlongs in 1:03 1/5.

“I thought he worked good. He always works well,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “He’s a nice horse and (it was) more of the same. He’s a very generous workhorse. The weather’s been ideal. I think we’ve been lucky with it so far. Obviously there’s a pretty good chance of rain for the Whitney, but that’s out of our hands. We’ll see how he handles everything.”

Gun Runner is coming off an impressive seven-length victory performance in the June 17 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs. It was his first since losing to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in March. His other 2017 race was a win in the Razorback Handicap (G3) in February.

Also working at Saratoga this past weekend was a fellow grade one winner, Time and Motion. The Tapit filly was clocked breezing four furlongs in a time of :49.45. It was the first time she hit the track since finishing third in the July 8 Modesty Handicap (G3T) at Arlington International Race Course.

Following Pennsylvania Derby Win, Connect Has Eyes on Breeders’ Cup

Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) winner Connect came out of his upset winning race over Gun Runner fine and his trainer Chad Brown is of the mindset that the Breeders’ Cup is under consideration for his next race. Brown was thrilled with Connect’s win, which he watched from Belmont Park.

He should be thrilled, and impressed, as Connect, who is the son of Curlin, beat out a tough field that included Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and Preakness Stakes champion Exaggerator.

“He has only run one bad race (the Travers) and he came out of it with a lung infection,” said Brown. “(Owner Paul Pompa Jr.) felt it was a legitimate excuse and he pushed to run in the Pennsylvania Derby. I’m glad he did.”

It was Connect’s first graded stakes win. He had won his first three races of 2016, one of which was the July 29 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. In his last graded stakes event, the Travers Stakes (gr. I) on August 27, Connect finished sixth.

“We always thought a lot of Connect,” said Brown. “He’s a horse that took a while to come around. He had a couple of minor injuries along the way and he finally showed yesterday what we thought all along about him—that he could be a top 3-year-old dirt horse.

“We’re very excited about him. So far he looks OK and we’ll form a plan in the days to come. The Breeders’ Cup will be considered, but there are other races as well and other routes we can take with him. He’s definitely an exciting horse for the future.”

2016 Pennsylvania Derby results

Big Stars Fade At Pennsylvania Derby

The main attractions for the 2016 Pennsylvania Derby were set in stone. This was the eighth clash between Nyquist and Exaggerator, and a chance for both to put recent doubts to rest. Unfortunately, neither were up to the task with a $1.25 million bounty on the line at Parx Racing over the weekend.

Connect was the big winner at the Pennsylvania Derby, paying out  $23.20, $9.80, and $7.20 across the board as a longshot. Gun Runner delivered $5.40 and $4.00 in second. Wild About Deb slipped in as the third place horse with 61/1 odds delivering $21.20 to show.

Nyquist fell to 6th, while Exaggerator was 7th after opening the race in second last. It was a disappointing turn of events for the pair to say the least, especially after Doug O’Neill had touted a change in gameplan for the front-running Nyquist. The altered strategy didn’t pan out as he seemed out of sorts down the home stretch and frustrated that he wasn’t in a better position to win. I don’t know if he even had it in him to be honest.

Paul Reddam was a little despondent following the Pennsylvania Derby results. Nyquist is undoubtedly poised for strong career, but his later showings have not gone according to plan in the slightest. Hopes of him competing at the Breeders’ Cup are legitimately fading. “The winner ran well and we didn’t have any apparent excuse,” Reddam said of Nyquist. “We’ll have to check the horse over and make sure that he’s well and we’ll work from there. That was definitely the worst performance of his life, so that’s not how you want to go into the Breeders’ Cup. Maybe it’ll somehow look different tomorrow, but I’m not sure how.”

The same is likely expected of Exaggerator. The two have now gone from having the biggest rivalry in the sport, to having one of the least interesting. How they both regroup and resolve their recent issues is pivotal to their futures, but it’s impossible to stay uplifted about their chances for the balance of the 2016 campaign after such sour showings in the Pennsylvania Derby.

Arrogate Awesome in Travers Stakes Triumph

Arrogate Sets Track Record with 13 Length Win in Travers

Jockey Mike Smith unleashed Arrogate as they turned for home in the $1.25 million Travers Saturday, and the nearly 50,000 fans at Saratoga and a NBC television crowd were about to witness a riveting finish and track record.

Saturday’s at Saratoga are usually special, but this day became awesome when Arrogate turned in a record time performance to annihilate 12 challengers and win the 147th running of the Travers Stakes. The final time covering 1 ¼ miles was 1:59.36, a track record for the distance and a new Travers record that was set in 1979 by General Assembly.

“He has a stride that is tremendous,” Smith said. “Although we were going quick, he was well within himself.”

Arrogate Travers Winners CircleSent off at 11-1, Arrogate moved to the lead at the half mile marker in a brisk 46.84 just ahead of stablemate American Freedom. Those two maintained their position around the far turn for trainer Bob Baffert, who had to be grinning ear to ear as his two horses came down the stretch. Especially the big gray Arrogate, who’s powerful and smooth stride extended the lead and continued his steamroll past the final furlong to win by 13 1/2 lengths.

“I was amazed how he lengthened his stride and opened up,” Smith said.

Arrogate paid $25.40, $12.60 and $8.40. American Freedom was second for $6.70 and $4.60.  Gun Runner finished third for a $2 trifecta payoff of $2,028. The $2 exacta paid $134.50.

“We ran into a freak today,” said Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Gun Runner. “He never slowed down.”

Preakness Stakes winner and race favorite Exaggerator was never a factor and failed to fire with his usual closing kick in finishing 11th. Belmont Stakes champion Creator didn’t close either and finished seventh.

“Turning for home, I sat back, and I just thought, wow, he is just what I was hoping he was like, and I knew there was no way they were going to catch him. He was just getting in gear,” Baffert said.

The Midsummer Derby was Baffert’s first Travers win since 2001 with Point Given. Arrogate won his fourth straight race and is 4-for-5. The lightly-raced colt by Unbridled’s Song has been brought along slowly, but he’s clearly special. Arrogate earned an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic November 5 at Santa Anita, as the Travers is a ‘Win and You’re In’ Breeders’ Cup race.

Arrogate won’t be overlooked when he returns to the West coast and makes his way to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. A star hit the scene Saturday at Saratoga, and reminded us that patience and preparation can payoff.

Travers Stakes preview

Preakness Winner Favored At Travers

The 2016 campaign has been a ridiculously profitable one for Exaggerator and his connections. Already at 6-3-1 in thirteen starts, this year’s Preakness champion has raked in well over $3.5 million. He could definitely add to his earnings, as well as his decorated trophy case, by cashing in at the Travers Stakes.

Heading in to the Triple Crown season, Exaggerator was a bit on the outside but began to gain steam closer to the spring. he demolished the Santa Anita Derby to become the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby and fell just short of upsetting Nyquist at the wire. He would go on to win the Preakness before finishing a strangely disappointing 11th at the Belmont Stakes. Many doubted that he would become the impact player that he is known as now, and a rebound effort at the Haskell Invitational re-affirmed his stock and talent.

Now Exaggerator is pointed towards this weekend’s Travers Stakes where he will battle a full field of fourteen other competitors. Already the 3/1 favorite, there is a lot of competition that is being very awkwardly valued by the oddsmakers. Even with so much racing done this year, Exaggerator’s expectations and workload have been expertly managed by Keith Desormeaux. It’s albeit impossible to assume that he’ll finish anywhere out of the top-three. There’s simply too much fight in this horse.

The main challenge to his crown, at least on the betting board at the Travers, is a horse named Connect who won the Curlin. Coincidentally, the namesake of that horse is also his father as well as the father of Exaggerator. At 3-0-1, the Chad Brown trainee remains an intriguing take and one that should find his way in to the mix one way or another.

Gift Box finds himself with 12/1 odds heading in to the Travers Stakes but has managed to hit the podium in all six of his races. With odds like that, he’s undeniably attractive and his results could very well justify padding a box bet with him included.

There’s also a buffet of very familiar faces in this race thanks to the publicity of the Triple Crown itself. Laoban is 15/1 after winning the Jim Dandy, while Belmont Stakes champion Creator and Gun Runner share those same odds. Governor Malibu, who was a new shooter in the Belmont and runner-up at the Jim Dandy, comes in at 10/1, odds he currently holds alongside Destin.

The rest of the field is a real dart board, but the one horse that many players are finding it nearly impossible to ignore is American Freedom because of his rousing performance at the Haskell Invitational where he came second to Exaggerator. As the third choice at the Travers with 6/1 odds, there’s a lot of upset potential here. If you’re looking for a savvy stand alone bet, then this is probably the best choice overall.

In no particular order, my favorite horses in this race remain Exaggerator, American Freedom and Gift Box. I’m willing to let Connect prove me wrong as there’s just not enough information on him to really take a swing considering how strong the remainder of the Travers Stakes field actually is. How you bet your money is up to yo, but some combination of those three is my preference.

Travers Stakes – Saratoga Racecourse on Saturday, August 27th (5:44pm EST)
1 1/4 Miles — 3 Year Olds — $1.25 Million

PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Arrogate Mike Smith Bob Baffert 10/1
2 American Freedom Rafael Bejarano Bob Baffert 6/1
3 My Man Sam Manuel Franco Chad Brown 50/1
4 Governor Malibu Joel Rosario Chris Clement 10/1
5 Forever d’Oro Luis Saez Dale Stewart 30/1
6 Anaximandros Leonel Reyes Mikhail Yanakov 50/1
7 Exaggerator Kent Desormeaux Keith Desormeaux 3/1
8 Destin Javie Catellano Todd Pletcher 10/1
9 Gift Box Junior Alvaredo Chad Brown 12/1
10 Connect John Velasquez Chad Brown 4/1
11 Majesto Gustavo Delgado Ricardo Santana 20/1
12 Creator Irad Ortiz Steve Asmussen 15/1
13 Laoban Jose Ortiz Eric Guillot 15/1
14 Gun Runner Florent Geroux Steve Asmussen 15/1
Haskell Invitational preview

Nyquist Headed To Haskell Invitational

It’s been well over two months since we last saw Nyquist fading to third at the Preakness Stakes and watching his Triple Crown hopes vanish in the thick mud at Pimlico. A low-grade fever knocked him out of contention for the Belmont and horse players have been eagerly anticipating his return. Now we know that will be definitively. Nyquist is set to run the Haskell Invitational at the very end of July.

As a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race, the winner of the Haskell Invitational will be awarded automatic entry in to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a $6 million challenge which will feature some of the best talent if all pans out the way it should. Amongst the hopefuls for that race are California Chrome and Beholder, two of the most dominant older horses out there.

It’s hard to say where Nyquist fits in to that equation. The previously undefeated three-year old struggled at the Preakness Stakes during a fight with the slop, and trainer Doug O’Neill and the horse’s ownership group have taken a lighter approach to training than you might expect.

“The Haskell was always the obvious choice, and it’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ race too,” Paul Reddam said regarding the Haskell Invitational. “We just didn’t want to paint ourselves into a corner by announcing he was going to run somewhere and then have him not be ready.

“The report I got is he worked very well this morning, well within himself, and Doug said he went in :59 very comfortably. Depending on flight availability Nyquist should go out to Monmouth three or four days before the race. I expect the field to be relatively short, with the Jim Dandy (gr. II) running the day before and the West Virginia Derby (gr. II) the following week.”

The timing of the event is pretty perfect as it gives Nyquist plenty of time to rest between the end of summer and the world championships. His main competition will be Gun Runner, who topped the derby trail points list prior to the first leg of the Triple Crown. The Steve Asmussen trainee was last seen finishing a respectable third at the Kentucky Derby.

The Haskell Invitational is set for July 31st at Monmouth Park and will be a can’t miss race for thoroughbred fans.

2016 Preakness Stakes field

2016 Preakness Stakes Field Probables

The obvious leader on the board will be Nyquist, who ran an outstanding race against a competitive field to win the Kentucky Derby as the favorite. Despite allowing for a large field, the 2016 Preakness Stakes field is likely to be ten or less. The 1 3/16th mile race has previously been won by the Kentucky Derby for the past two years.

The runner-up at Churchill Downs this past weekend will likely toss his name in to the hat. Exaggerator ran an absolutely outstanding race but was no match for the sheer speed of Nyquist down the stretch. He fought hard to rally past Gun Runner, who also seems likely for the 2016 Preakness Stakes field.

Recent Kentucky Derby hopefuls such as Lani and Suddenbreakingnews, who finished 9th and 5th respectively, are also going to try and topple Nyquist in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Sharp Azteca is also pointed towards the Preakness Stakes field after a win at the Pat Day Mile, which was part of the Kentucky Derby undercard. Fourth place finisher, Fellowship, is also leaning towards taking part in the second leg of the Triple Crown. The Mark Casse trainee finished third at the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby before landing fourth at the Pat Day Mile.

New shooters are also expected for the race. Laoban and Cherry Wine were both slotted as alternates for the Kentucky Derby but never made the gate since all of the originally nominated horses made the call. Lexington Stakes winner, Collected, is also expected to enter the race after missing the derby. Uncle Lino will also likely enter after winning the California Chrome stakes. Awesome Speed is another probable for the 2016 Preakness Stakes field.

The mystery of the race seems to already be Stradivari, who won an allowance at Keeneland but has yet to compete in a stakes race.

“We’re very excited that the Derby winner and a couple others from the race are coming to the Preakness,” said Georgeanne Hale, racing secretary for the Maryland Jockey Club. “It looks like we’re going to have good field sizes and great weather. All 15 stakes Preakness weekend look to be coming together and right now it looks like two fantastic days of racing.”

The 2016 Preakness Stakes field will hit Pimlico Racecourse on May 21st in an attempt to derail Nyquist’s bid for the Triple Crown.

Corey Lanerie

Corey Lanerie Gets Another Shot At Mo Tom

It’s been a strange and wild ride for jockey Corey Lanerie and Mo Tom. The pair is just six weeks removed from an errant run at the Louisiana Derby that almost cost the rider his relationship with the Kentucky Derby contender. Even trainer Tom Amoss was pretty quick to throw Lanerie under the proverbial hooves after a disappointing fourth place finish at Fair Grounds’ biggest race.

Expectations for Mo Tom have been fairly high during the prep for the Triple Crown series. He was supposed to win both the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, but had almost identical problems in both races as he was forced in to hard checks down the homestretch. Trainer Tom Amoss was not shy about criticizing his jockey’s course of action in either race either.

“I don’t understand the ride Corey, to be quite frank with you,” Amoss said at the end of the Louisiana Derby. “I was not at my professional best with Corey afterward and I apologize for that. It’s all the work we put into the horse. To watch that unfold is, the only thing I can compare it to is being present to watch your son get beat up on the playground. It’s hard to watch.” Amoss went as far as to say that, “I just hope he didn’t hurt my hors,” after seeing Corey Lanerie ride him to the rail.

To his credit, Lanerie admitted fault after a crushing Louisiana Derby race. “He’s a great horse,” Lanerie said of Mo Tom. “I got him in a ton of trouble. I had more horse than I knew what to do with. It was a bad ride and totally my fault.” Lanerie even expressed that he’d be surprised if Amoss let him ride Mo Tom again.

Eventually, Amoss came around. Time heals all wounds but it also has a way of reminding handlers that they can’t change things up on their horses too much before a big race. “Corey knows this track better than anybody and he knows my horse better than anybody,” Amoss expressed after announcing that the jockey would return in Mo Tom’s saddle for the Kentucky Derby. “We feel blessed to have him.”

Corey Lanerie is one of the winningest riders at Churchill Downs and that likely played a big factor. But it also goes a long way in reminding us that Amoss trusts Lanerie with his horse once more and that words spoken in the heat of the action can often be sensationalized.

“He gets along with him great and also knows his nuances,” Amoss continued on the relationship that Corey Lanerie has with Mo Tom. “That may sound like a contradiction, but he does. The thing about Mo Tom is that he has this switch; he turns it off out of the gate and relaxes, but when you turn that switch on, he goes in a hurry. I think it has surprised a lot of people. With Corey on him, he knows that when he turns that switch on, it’s go time.

“Corey also knows how long he can carry that kick, and it’s more than the average horse. Those aren’t things you can describe to a rider who has never ridden him in a race. We feel lucky to have him.”

There is no mistaking that Mo Tom is a lot of horse to handle. Even with just two low-grade stakes victories on his resume, horse men know that Mo Tom had the muscle and desire to make dazzling home stretch runs at both the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby. Hopefully this time, Corey Lanerie can find the right line for Mo Tom to prove just how great he actually is.

Talk about a redemption story.