Heavily-favored Gun Runner took the lead shortly after the start, shook off a brief challenge from Stanford on the far turn and drew away easily under jockey Florent Geroux through the homestretch for an easy 7-length victory before crowd of 20,669 in Saturday’s 36th running of the Grade I, $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Three Chimneys Farm and trained by Steve Asmussen, won for the third time in his last four races and the victory secured the colt a starting spot in the Grade I, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at California’s Del Mar Race Course on Nov. 4. The race was part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In Classic Division” series of races.
Gun Runner covered the Stephen Foster’s 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.56 — the fifth-fastest running of the Stephen Foster. The colt’s victory margin was a record and eclipsed Street Cry, who won the 2002 Foster by 6½ lengths.
“I was loaded the entire trip around there,” Geroux said. “He was doing everything so easily. This horse is truly unbelievable. He’s one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden and to put forward this type of effort after running in Dubai is so impressive. I was a bit surprised to find myself on a lone-lead but I wasn’t complaining one bit. What a horse.”
Gun Runner’s only loss in his last four races was a runner-up finish to 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arragate, the top-ranked horse in the world, in the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup in his previous start at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse on March 25.
Gun Runner paid $3, $2.40 and $1.10 as the odds-on favorite in the overmatched field of seven rivals. Honorable Duty rallied to finish second under jockey Javier Castellano and returned $4 and $2.60. It was 1¼ lengths back to Breaking Lucky, who finished third under Luis Contreras and paid $3 to show. Hawaakom, a 45-1 longshot ridden by Miguel Mena, finished 1½ lengths farther back in fourth.
“It’s special to win a Grade I but now we have our ticket punched to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Asmussen, who previously won the Stephen Foster with Curlin in 2008. “We got him to the winner’s circle here at home and we set ourselves up for a great second-half campaign. I can’t thank our owners enough. This horse is incredibly special in so many ways.”
Gun Runner’s Stephen Foster Handicap triumph improved his career record to 8-3-2 in 15 races and the winner’s purse of $300,700 boosted his lifetime earnings to $4,638,500.
Stanford finished fifth, and was followed past the finish line by Texas Chrome, Mo Tom and Bird Song.
Wimborne Farm’s gray 7-year-old Kasaqui avenged a half-length loss in last year’s Grade II, $200,000 Wise Dan at Churchill Downs when he struck the lead with an eighth of a mile to run and easily beat Chocolate Ride by 2¾ lengths in the 28th renewal of the 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up.
Defending champ Pleuven failed to threaten and finished sixth of eight as the 2-1 favorite.
Trained by Ignacio Correas IV and ridden by James Graham, Kasaqui stopped the clock in 1:40.26, which is the fastest at the distance over the surface at the Spring Meet.
“He broke sharp, settled back and came absolutely sprinting home at the end,” Graham said. “I wish all of my races were this simple. Once I got him in the clear, he had his mind on winning. He ran a great race and I’m so proud of him.”
Chocolate Ride set the pace through fractions of :23.81, :47.25 and 1:10.87 as Kasaqui settled off of the inside early on before commencing his rally with a four-wide move on the far turn. He took over nearing the final furlong marker and shook clear for the comfortable stakes triumph — the second of his career.
The victory was worth $120,280 and boosted Kasaqui’s earnings to $651,547 with a record of 26-6-10-1. Last year, he won the Grade III, $125,000 Arlington Handicap and finished second to Mondialiste in the Grade I, $1 million Arlington Million.
Prior to the Wise Dan, Kasaqui finished fourth in the Grade I, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day.
Kasaqui returned $8.40, $4.60 and $3.20 as the 3-1 second betting choice. Chocolate Ride, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, returned $8 and $4.60 and finished 1¼ lengths in front of Conquest Panthera, who paid $4.40 to show under Robby Albarado. It was another head back to Bondurant, who was followed by Blofeld, Pleuven, Thatcher Street and Security Risk.
“You know he just wasn’t good enough today,” jockey Corey Lanerie said of Pleuven. “He was in a good spot, I thought. And when I asked him to go, he wasn’t fast enough.”
Fresh off a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Whitham Thoroughbreds LLC’s multiple stakes-winning homebred colt McCraken overcame an awkward start to comfortably win the Grade III, $100,000 Matt Winn by 2¼ lengths.
Ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. and trained by Ian Wilkes, McCraken returned to the winner’s circle by running 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.84.
“Today, he was kind of back to his old self where he got into a nice rhythm around there,” Hernandez Jr. said. “He wasn’t wanting to overdo it the first part and then he just kind of built his confidence up as he went. ... He went on by those horses pretty easily and thought he lane he kind of did it the right way.”
This marked the third time that Wilkes has won the Matt Winn. He also won the race in 2012 with Neck ’n Neck and the 2015 renewal with Island Town.
“I loved everything about it,” Wilkes said. “He come into the paddock really good today. Behind the gates, he was walking around like he had some confidence about him. And so that was good. And then when he left the gate, he just dropped the bit and listened to Brian. I was very pleased.”
McCraken, breaking from post 2 in the field of six 3-year-olds, lost his footing when the gates sprung open, which allowed the colt to settle about 9½ lengths behind early leader Aquamarine, who led the cast through a first quarter mile in :23.58 and the half mile in :47.48. McCraken made a bold four-wide move on the far turn, drew even with leaders Aquamarine, Mo’s Mojo and Colonelsdarktemper and spurted clear at the sixteenth pole to beat the latter.
The victory was worth $61,380 and boosted McCraken’s bankroll to $472,228 with a record of 7-5-0-1. The Matt Winn was McCraken’s fourth stakes win. He emerged from the May 6 Derby with cut on his left hind leg that likely occurred during a bumping incident shortly after the start of the 1¼-mile classic, won by Always Dreaming.
McCraken returned $2.40, $2.10 and $2.10 as the odds-on 1-5 favorite Saturday. Colonelsdarktemper, ridden by Jon Court, returned $4.60 and $3.60 and finished three-quarters of a length in front of Society Beau who paid $3.20 to show under Robby Albarado.
It was another half-length back to Mo’s Mojo in fourth with Excitations and Aquamarine completing the order of finish.
McCraken is a Kentucky-bred son of Ghostzapper out of the Seeking the Gold mare Ivory Empress. He was bred by his owner Janis Whitham.