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Aaron previews the 2023 Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots. The Bill Mott-trained Elite Power looks for his 8th straight win but must handle several tough rivals including Gun It, who hails from the red-hot barn of Linda Rice.
Who emerges victorious in this mid-season unofficial prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Reigning Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power bested dual graded stakes-winner Gunite when they last faced off in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in February in Saudi Arabia. The two millionaire sprinters will renew their rivalry, some 6,400 miles away, as they battle for divisional supremacy in Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and upward at Saratoga Race Course.
The Alfred G. Vanderbilt is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s 12-race card which also features the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy presented by DK Horse in Race 10. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.
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Juddmonte’s Elite Power, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, won 5-of-6 starts last year, taking the Grade 2 Vosburgh at Belmont at the Big A and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland to complete his Championship season.
The 5-year-old Curlin chestnut made his seasonal debut with a powerful performance in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint. With Frankie Dettori up, Elite Power took up an outside position in sixth as the Tyler Gaffalione-piloted Gunite saved ground behind the speed of Meraas and Justin. It was Gunite that moved first to take on Justin as Meraas retreated, but Elite Power was flying on the outside and soared to a 3 1/4-length score over a grinding Gunite, who earned place honors.
Elite Power did not return until June 10, easily posting a 1 3/4-length win in the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 2 True North over Big Sandy.
“He got the job done. He did what he had to do and we did what we had to do to bring him along,” Mott said of the successful seasonal debut.
Elite Power worked a half-mile solo in 51.22 seconds Sunday over the Oklahoma training track in a breeze that Mott indicated was similar to the chestnut’s half-mile work in 51.11 on October 28 over the Oklahoma ahead of his Breeders’ Cup coup.
“That’s him by himself,” Mott said. “He’s run well off of those kind of works right before his races. He did that in Saudi. He was working 51 before he won the Breeders’ Cup. He wouldn’t wow anyone when he’s working by himself.”
Elite Power, who boasts a record of 10-7-0-1 for purse earnings in excess of $2.4 million, won his lone start over the Spa main track by toppling an optional-claiming field here in September.
The Spa’s leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the call from post 4 aboard Elite Power, who will carry a field-high 126 pounds.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Kentucky homebred Gunite posted a record of 7-4-2-0 last year, winning stakes at Churchill Downs [Maxfield, Harrods Creek], Saratoga [Grade 2 Amsterdam] and Keeneland [Perryville].
The dark bay endured a troubled trip as he concluded a solid sophomore season in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and settled for fourth, four lengths back of the Mott-trained winner Cody’s Wish.
The well-traveled colt prepared for the Riyadh Dirt Sprint with a four-length romp in the King Cotton over sloppy and sealed going in January at Oaklawn Park and completed his overseas excursion with a close third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March at Meydan Racecourse.
Gunite tuned up for Saturday’s test by posting a career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure with a stalking effort in the six-furlong Aristides on June 3 at Churchill Downs, scoring a 1 3/4-length win over Bango, who exited that effort to win the Kelly’s Landing at Ellis Park.
Asmussen holds Gunite, an eight-time winner with earnings in excess of $1.7 million, in high regard.
“He’s exactly what horse racing needs – versatile, durable, and honest,” Asmussen said. “He’s hard as hickory as a horse can be mentally and physically. He doesn’t care where it’s at – Saratoga, Dubai, Saudi, Hot Springs – he’s going to run.”
Asmussen and Winchell Thoroughbreds campaigned Gunite’s sire, Gun Runner, to Horse of the Year honors in 2017 on the back of Grade 1 wins at Saratoga in the Whitney and Woodward.
Gunite has proven to have similar affinity for the Spa, boasting a record of 4-2-2-0, including a 5 3/4-length romp in the 2021 Grade 1 Hopeful and a runner-up effort to Jack Christopher in last year’s Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial.
Tyler Gaffalione retains the mount from post 5 aboard Gunite, who is assigned 124 pounds.
Dean Delivers [post 6, Emisael Jaramillo, 120 pounds], a Florida homebred for Stonehedge trained by Michael Yates, will make his first start outside of the Sunshine State.
The ultra-consistent 4-year-old Cajun Breeze gelding sports a ledger of 16-5-7-1 for purse earnings of $431,060. He made the grade in his sixth attempt last out with a gate-to-wire triumph in the six-furlong Grade 3 Smile Sprint on July 1 at Gulfstream Park.
With returning rider Emisael Jaramillo up, Dean Delivers blitzed through splits of 21.88 seconds, 44.30 and 56.41 over the fast main track en route to a 2 1/4-length score in a final time of 1:09.28. The sharp score earned a career-best 100 Beyer.
Yates, who made three trips to Saratoga with Cajun Breeze, is in search of his first Spa score.
Winning Move Stable’s Gun It [post 1, Jose Ortiz, 118 pounds] will try to overturn his former stablemate Gunite while making his first graded start since a seventh-place finish in the 2020 Grade 2 New Orleans Classic.
The 7-year-old Tapit gelding was haltered for $62,500 by Linda Rice, the Spa’s current leading trainer, out of a runner-up effort in April at Keeneland. He has since made three starts in optional-claiming sprints, hitting the board each time led by a 2 3/4-length score last out on June 22 at Belmont that matched a career-best 97 Beyer.
Gun It made 31 starts for Asmussen, earning second money traveling 1 1/16-miles in 2020 in the Grade 3 Louisiana and Grade 3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds. But the grey gelding has posted 3-of-4 wins around one turn, including a sharp effort in a seven-furlong allowance here in July 2021 that also garnered a 97 Beyer.
The regally-bred Gun It is out of the multiple graded stakes-placed Medaglia d’Oro mare Miss Besilu, who is a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, Grade 1-winner Funtastic and graded-stakes winner Quiet Giant – the dam of Gun Runner.
Rounding out the field is graded-stakes winner Little Vic [post 7, Carlos Olivero, 118 pounds] for trainer Juan Carlos Avila; the multiple graded stakes-placed Synthesis [post 2, Manny Franco, 119 pounds] for owner-trainer David Jacobson; and Awesome Aaron [post 3, Dylan Davis, 116 pounds], who makes his stakes debut for owner-trainer Troy Green.
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