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Woodward Stakes Preview: Gun Runner vs. The Pletchers

Woodward Stakes Preview: Gun Runner vs. The Pletchers

The Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward will go off as the 11th race on the final Saturday of the Saratoga meeting. Highlighted by Gun Runner, the Woodward has only drawn a field of five horses this year, but when you draw the number-one horse in the country, it can brighten up any field. Trainer Steve Asmussen couldn’t be happier bringing Gun Runner back for the Woodward.

“We’ve talked about him quite a bit, how he spoils us with his consistency,” Asmussen said. “I think that he’s consistently or incrementally gotten better every race, and I think that’s ideal because it hasn’t been a huge jump forward, it’s just been a little bit at a time. He was an extremely talented 2-year-old, a very good 3-year-old, and a great older horse.

“I was very impressed because of the circumstances of Saratoga. You rarely ever see the race of a horse’s life at Saratoga. When you look back at some great forms and some great races, it’s usually not their best number or fastest race. Visually, it was an impressive race. Watching it, he went through the wire with good energy, and I’m very pleased with that. Staying here and then making one move to California gives us the best chance.”

Gun Runner will be the overwhelming favorite in the race, but Todd Pletcher has a pair of horses entered who could make some noise. Both are coming off of wins over this track last time out, as Rally Cry dominated the Alydar Stakes and Neolithic narrowly won an allowance event. Pletcher believes that both horses are in fine form heading into the race.

“Both are doing well, both ran well here,” Pletcher said. “I have a lot of respect for Gun Runner and his ability, but we’re happy with the way our horses are doing and we’ll give it our best shot. It’s light in numbers, strong in quality. Both Rally Cry and Neolithic, at a mile and 1/8, have tactical speed, so I think some of it will depend on post position, but Gun Runner is a pretty tactical horse as well, so we’ll see how it works out.”

Rounding out the field are War Story (for Loooch Racing) and Discreet Lover, owned by Uriah St. Lewis.

Top Choice

#2 Gun Runner –  A few weeks ago, the thought of Gun Runner overtaking Arrogate as the number-one horse in the country was a stretch, but it’s happened, and deservingly so. This field doesn’t look like it can challenge him. Much like the Grade 1 Whitney, this looks like a runaway win for him. As of right now, the only horses that could beat him all reside on the west coast. He won’t meet any of those until the Breeders’ Cup, so expect him to put on a show this Saturday.

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Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

NONE – Gun Runner will be a single for me here. He destroyed the Whitney field, and this race has come up a bit easier than that one. If he shows up with his normal race, he’ll win easily.

Exotic Plays

#3 Rally Cry – The extremely impressive Alydar win last time out earned him a shot against graded stakes company. The Pletcher trainee has shown flashes of solid talent in the past but has never been able to win against top-flight company. However, he is doing well and is Gun Runner’s main threat. Pletcher is in the middle of a major battle for top trainer honors, so this race would really mean a lot to him. You can bet that he’ll have this one fully cranked to pull off the upset.

#1 Neolithic – A solid runner who never seems to show up with a poor race, he finished third in both the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup and the Group 1 Dubai World Cup this year but was beaten by nearly 8 lengths in both races. Returning from the Dubai World Cup effort, he won an allowance last time out over this track, but that race was not impressive – he only narrowly defeated an average 3-year-old. He’ll be more cranked up here, but it’s going to be a tall order.

#4 War Story – He finished fourth in the Whitney, and that’s probably near where he’ll finish in this spot. He’s capable of jumping up and running a big race, but he’s probably not capable of beating Gun Runner. A solid horse to use underneath that might end up being an okay price, but he’s awfully tough to trust against a horse like Gun Runner.

Party Crashers

NONE – It would be a complete shock to see somebody other than Gun Runner or the Pletchers winning this one.

Throw Outs

#5 Discreet Lover – He was over his head in the Whitney last time out and is over his head once again here. It’s hard to see this one being a player on any level in this difficult spot.

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