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The Saratoga Skinny: Gunnin’ for Rabbit in Whitney

The Saratoga Skinny: Gunnin’ for Rabbit in Whitney

Each week on Dark Tuesdays, we will bring you “The Saratoga Skinny” looking at the coming week of racing at Saratoga and looking back at the big action the week before. “The Saratoga Skinny” will be broken into five sections: The Break (looking at the biggest story of the upcoming week), The Turn (focusing on Stakes races on Saturdays), The Stretch (focusing on other stories in the upcoming week), Going to the Whip (some thoughts on the week before and a few light-hearted jokes, when appropriate) and The Finish Line (discussing important upcoming events in Saratoga). Now that you know how “The Saratoga Skinny” works, let’s get into it!

The Break: Whitney Rabbit

In the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, the always-unsuccessful Elmer Fudd is famously known for saying, “Shhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.”

Well, this Saturday, multiple Grade 1 winner Gun Runner will look for more success than Fudd when he tries to track down a rabbit to win the prestigious Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

Pace makes the race and Loooch Racing Stables knows this, so they will enter both Cautious Giant and War Story in the Whitney. Cautious Giant has good early speed and Loooch Racing owner, Ron Paolucci, was quoted as saying in a Daily Racing Form article on July 12 that he’s entering Cautious Giant as a “pacesetter” for War Story.

New Subscriber Bonus: Access our Top 10 Wagering Angles in Racing to see exactly what we look for when opening up the past performances.

The premise of an owner or trainer using a “pacesetter” (a.k.a. “rabbit”) has been used for decades and is a common practice in European turf races. It’s an accepted practice meant to ensure a fast pace that will hopefully help other runners looking to close and win.

The 6-year old gelding Cautious Giant was successfully used as a pacesetter by Paolucci in the Grade 2, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic in April. In that race, Cautious Giant (at 84/1 odds) took the early lead, setting swift 1/4- and 1/2-mile fractions of :23.43 and :47.38 with the even-money favorite Stanford chasing. The fast pace set up well for the other two Loooch runners, as Imperative won the race and War Story got third by a 1/2-length. Cautious Giant faded to last, while Stanford tired to finish sixth.

In the Whitney, Gun Runner, the likely favorite and third-ranked horse in the world, will most likely attend the early pace since he is a horse that likes to show early speed. His regular rider, Florent Geroux, will need to make sure that he doesn’t chase Cautious Giant early so that he has enough late to hold off the stretch charges of War Story, Keen Ice, and Breaking Lucky. Others entered in the Whitney include Discreet Lover and Tu Brutus.

The last time Keen Ice ran at Saratoga, he upset the 2015 Travers over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Is another upset brewing? (Photo: Michael Spector)

There should be no issue with allowing Paolucci to run Cautious Giant as a pacesetter, but how the coupled entry rules should be enacted for this race and reported to the general betting public is the key question.

Under current rules by the New York Gaming Commission, as of July 2015, horses with a common ownership are coupled as a single “betting interest” unless they are being run in stakes races with purses more than $50,000. The Whitney has a purse of $1.25 million, so even though Cautious Giant and War Story have common ownership, they will be entered as an uncoupled entry.

Since they will be uncoupled, the next question is: “Should the stewards at the NYRA denote that Cautious Giant is a ‘rabbit’ in the race?” Or should it be left up to the bettors to be savvy enough to read articles like this and know why a horse  is being run in one of the most important races for older males all year, who most recently won a 6-furlong optional-claiming race at Thistledown on July 10?

After the Grade 1 Sword Dancer last year at Saratoga, where owner Juddmonte Farm entered their pacesetter Inordinate to set up the late run of top turf male Flintshire, the NYRA stewards said that they’d look into the idea of denoting such pacesetter entrants for future races. In that race, questionable “tag team” tactics were used that caused an objection and later appeal by the owners of the sixth-place finisher, Roman Approval, that were not heard by the Gaming Commission.

Coupled entries were always meant to protect the bettor, and since the Commission or stewards most likely will not be able to make an exception to their rule for the Whitney to couple these two Loooch runners , should Cautious Giant be denoted in some way as a “pacesetter” in the program?

While that idea has merit, what happens if Cautious Giant actually wins the Whitney? It’s a slippery slope to make such a designation, so we probably won’t see it happen anytime soon. Bettors will need to continue to be savvy enough to know when a rabbit is being entered in a race and bet accordingly.

If Cautious Giant becomes a “giant killer” in the Whitney and wears down Gun Runner early to set it up for a late closer to win, though, you’ll be hearing a lot of grumblings after the race, and the conversation about coupled entries will spread like wildfire once again.

Weather Update: It’s supposed to rain starting on Thursday in Saratoga and heavy rains are expected Friday night into Saturday morning. Gun Runner may have proved that his wet track form is a misnomer after his strong second over a muddy Meydan strip in the Dubai World Cup, but his previous starts in the Haskell and Kentucky Jockey Club over off-goings were the two worst starts of his career. Those two races (Haskell & KJC) were the only two times he ran on tracks labeled sloppy and notably are the only two times in Gun Runner’s 15-race  career that he did not hit the board. Watch the weather leading up to the weekend and bet accordingly.

Whitney Wagering Guide

The Turn: Hall of Fame Game

The Grade 2 Hall of Fame on Friday, August 4, for 3-year olds going 1 1/16 miles over turf will kick off the Week 3 Graded Stakes action at The Spa and features a rematch of two horses coming out of the thrilling non-graded Manila Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4.

Bricks and Mortar closed like an absolute rocket on the outside to get up by a neck over Big Handsome in the last jump. Both will be back in action here, with the Tony Dutrow-trained Big Handsome looking to settle the score after he was pinned down on the rail in traffic in the Manila. They will both need to stretch out an extra 1/16 mile from the flat mile of the Manila.

The possible future star of this division is Yoshida, who comes off of a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, where he was the betting favorite. He will be cutting back from the 1 1/4-mile Derby here for trainer Bill Mott.

Arklow, the winner of the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs in May, came back to underwhelm in the Belmont Derby finishing tenth has been entered in the Hall of Fame for trainer Brad Cox.

Bonus Points, Makarios, Parlor, Secretary At War, and Snap Decision also have been entered, with Caviar Czar as a main track only entry.

Chanel’s Legacy will be a longshot in the Grade 1 Test on Saturday for her new trainer, Chad Summers (Photo: Michael Spector)

The Stretch: Big Test for Fillies

The Whitney undercard on Saturday will be highlighted by the Grade 1 Test for 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs over the dirt. Chad Brown has entered his undefeated Your Love leading the way.

West coast invaders American Gal (for trainer Simon Callaghan) and Chalon (for Peter Miller) will also be top choices, who both won stakes at Belmont on their last starts. Another top west coast invader is Faypien coming in off her Grade 2 Summertime Oaks win for trainer Bob Baffert.

Chanel’s Legacy will be making her first start for trainer Chad Summers, who has made Mind Your Biscuits into one of the top male sprinters in the country. Chanel’s Legacy has won three non-graded stakes this year but hasn’t been as successful in the graded stakes ranks.

“We’re very, very excited,” said Summers. “She came in from Prairie Meadows in great shape with Lynn (Chleborad), who’s done a great job with her throughout her career. We’re excited to run her. We think that 7 furlongs is going to be her sweet spot and we know what it means to be in a Grade 1.”

Cursor, Divine Miss Grey, Minnie Blip, Tequilita, and Vertical Oak are all entered in the Test.

Good Samaritan became a star on the dirt, surprising to win the Grade 2 Jim Dandy (Photo: Michael Spector)

Going to the Whip: Dandy Upset

  • As a postscript to last week’s column suggesting a Jim Dandy match race, I released the article on Tuesday afternoon, right before it was announced that Good Samaritan would be entered. When I heard that Good Samaritan would try dirt for the first time, I rushed to update my article because I felt that he was the biggest threat to the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and the Preakness champ Cloud Computing. In hindsight, the idea of a match race in this instance was a pretty foolish idea, but at the right time, I still think that it may be a good fit for the game. Case closed.
  • The Travers may be up next for Good Samaritan and Outplay, who also threw his hat into the ring after winning the non-graded Curlin on July 28 in front-running fashion. The Pletcher trainee is not certain for the Travers, though, as he has many options for his group of 3-year olds.
  • A star may have been born when juvenile filly Separationofpowers blitzed the field to break her maiden in a 6-furlong sprint at the Spa on July 30 by 11 3/4 lengths in a jaw-dropping performance. The Candy Ride filly out of an Empire Maker mare for top connections in Brown and Klaravich Stables may try the Grade 1 Spinaway next.
Outplay took a bite out of the Curlin field, but the Travers may not be next (Photo: Michael Spector)

The Finish Line: Class of 2017

Three-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova, multiple Eclipse Award-winning jockeys Javier Castellano and the late Garrett Gomez, and Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame this Friday, August 4.

The ceremony is open to the public and free to attend (limited seating) at 10:30 a.m. at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion. The Hall of Fame is right across Union Avenue from Saratoga Race Course. Even if you can’t attend the ceremony, it’s a great place to visit when you’re in Saratoga and make a donation to help preserve the game.

Keep up to date on all the Saratoga news by following me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim and on Instagram and Facebook, too!

Javier Castellano (shown here on 2017 Saratoga opening day) will be all smiles when he’s inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame this Friday (Photo: Michael Spector)

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