09/03/2017 10:45AM

Watchmaker: Arrogate still holds title belt over Gun Runner

Barbara D. Livingston
Gun Runner wins the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes by 10 1/4 lengths.

In the wake of last week’s Travers, racing folks across the land were faced with the quandary of what to make of the messy 3-year-old male division. West Coast, the decisive winner of the Travers, left little doubt that at least at this point, he is the best in his division. But in an overall sense, West Coast’s strength of record, at least to date, is not quite as strong as some of his contemporaries. That is a significant point, and it introduces a not-so-insignificant measure of subjectivity into the discussion.

Well, we have a similar dilemma coming to a boil in the older dirt male division thanks to the recent exploits of Gun Runner and Arrogate.

Gun Runner was sensational again in winning Saturday’s Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. He didn’t beat an especially strong group, but he did manhandle two very useful horses in Rally Cry and Neolithic the way you would want to see a special horse do it, winning off by more than 10 lengths and recording a final time fast enough to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 115.

The Woodward was Gun Runner’s fifth straight dominating victory here in the U.S., his eighth straight triple-digit Beyer on these shores, and his fifth straight U.S. Beyer of 110 or higher. Since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup last March, Gun Runner has won three straight Grade 1 races – the Stephen Foster, Whitney, and Woodward – by the lopsided margins of seven, 5 1/4, and 10 1/4 lengths. And his Woodward romp completed a sweep of Saratoga’s two premier events for older males.

This is all very big-boy stuff. Gun Runner has become a most serious horse.

In the meantime, Arrogate has famously struggled out at Del Mar, which happens to be the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. In his first start back after winning the Dubai World Cup (which came on the heels of his overwhelming victory in the Pegasus World Cup), Arrogate was so empty in finishing a distant fourth in the San Diego Handicap that it seemed like someone swapped out the real Arrogate for a cheap knockoff. His second-place finish most recently in the Pacific Classic was much better, but it still was most definitely not up to Arrogate’s usual standards.

So, what we now have in the older dirt male division is a tremendous horse in Gun Runner who might – strong emphasis on the word “might” – be a better horse at this moment than Arrogate. No one really knows for sure. It’s all speculation and opinion. But there are many folks who think this is so.

However, Arrogate still has, in my view, the stronger record. That’s opinion, too. But for me, while huge wins in the Woodward, Whitney, Foster (and Razorback, which Gun Runner won in his first start this year) make for a compelling résumé, they do not eclipse Arrogate’s powerful scores in the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, the world’s two richest Thoroughbred races.

And then there is the point many folks (okay, Gun Runner proponents) seem to be skipping right over: Arrogate beat Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup in their one head-to-head meeting this year. In fact, after a poor start and having to circle the field from last, Arrogate was days the best in beating Gun Runner in Dubai. By comparison, Gun Runner had a perfect trip, and Arrogate still blew by him like he was chained to the sixteenth pole.

The Dubai World Cup did not take place in a vacuum (nor did last year’s Travers Stakes, in which Arrogate beat Gun Runner by 15 lengths, but that is not pertinent to this discussion). The Dubai World Cup happened, and as much as Gun Runner has accomplished since, and even relative to Arrogate post-Dubai, it is Gun Runner going into the Breeders’ Cup who is in the position of having to even the score.

Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Gun Runner, gets it. “I think everything culminates with the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Asmussen told the New York Racing Association press staff after the Woodward. “If we are fortunate enough to have success there, everything else will take care of itself.”

Saturday notes:

• It is 2017. Scientists are working at pinpointing the source of a repeated fast radio burst from a dwarf galaxy three billion light-years from Earth. There is still almost $10 billion a year bet on Thoroughbred racing in this country. Most of those who bet that money rely heavily on final times and fractions to make their betting decisions. And for some inexplicable, indefensible reason, the industry still seems unable to consistently time races in reliable fashion.

The latest insulting example was Saratoga’s Saranac, a Grade 3 stakes race. During that race, these fractions were posted on the video feed: 28.35 seconds, 52.30, 1:16.03, and 1:38.77. These were, in a word, laughable. And then a final time of 1:44.41 was posted for 1 1/8 miles on the main turf course, which would have obliterated the course record.

It didn’t take long for a hand-timed final time for the Saranac of 1:46.18 to be announced. That’s what went on the official chart, but with no fractions. None. At this writing on Sunday morning, Trakus had absolutely no information on the Saranac posted online.

Really? Come on.

• A tip of the hat to Voodoo Song, who made the Saranac his fourth win of the Saratoga meet. Even in the era of 40-day Saratoga meets, that, in it’s own way, is also big-boy stuff.

• Both visually and against the clock, the 2-year-old fillies who contested the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante were a much stronger group than the ones seen in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Spinaway.

Moonshine Memories set a solid pace in the Debutante yet held on determinedly over Piedi Bianchi. The Spinaway, on the other hand, was the definition of a race that fell apart, with Lady Ivanka picking up the pieces after a destructive speed duel between the two favorites, Separationofpowers and Pure Silver.

The thing is, Lady Ivanka and Spinaway runner-up Maya Malibu really didn’t do any running in the late stages. They crawled home, too, as evidenced by a winning Spinaway Beyer of only 66, an incredibly low number for a Grade 1 stakes race. Moonshine Memories got an 82.