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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred Gunite gave freshman sire (and former Winchell Thoroughbreds star) Gun Runner a sweep of the weekend’s Grade 1s for juveniles when he dominated his rivals in Monday’s $300,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
Echo Zulu, Sunday’s Spinaway Stakes (G1) winner, is a Gun Runner filly similarly trained by Steve Asmussen, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., and co-owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds.
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Gunite broke a step slow from post 3 at 11/1 odds after getting bumped but quickly regrouped and surged up the rail to help set the pace by the time the field completed the opening 1/4-mile in :22.23.
Now racing inside Defend and Headline Report down the backstretch, Gunite settled comfortably as the 1/2-mile came across in :44.49.
Gunite began opening his advantage halfway through the far turn and hit the 1/4 pole with a growing lead that he extended with every step in the stretch.
Drawing away powerfully, Gunite crossed 5 3/4 lengths best while stopping the clock for the 7-furlong fast dirt sprint in 1:23.08 to give Asmussen and Santana Jr. their meet-best fifth Grade 1 victories.
“I loved how he went through the wire,” Asmussen said. “He didn’t get away great today. Ricardo said there was just a little bit of bumping. Going 22 and 1 to 44 and 2, and to look how he did it to the wire, it’s going to be exciting going forward. I was concerned we weren’t where we expected to be in the first hundred yards, but I watched the race from up the stretch and Ricardo, coming into the stretch, moved his hands a bit but had him plenty gathered up. I felt really good then.”
The 3/5 favorite Wit broke poorly for the third straight start, losing his footing and falling to his nose out of the gate. The Todd Pletcher trainee eventually rallied under Irad Ortiz Jr. to take second by 3 lengths over 28/1 longshot Kevin’s Folly, with the 5/2 second choice High Oak a 1/2-length behind him in fourth.
“He got beat by a nice horse,” said Ortiz Jr. “He stumbled a little bit at the beginning and he tried hard to overcome that. I had to hustle him and ask him to get position to get there on time, but it was too much.”
Power Agenda, Big Scully, Volcanic, Headline Report, Kitodan, Defend, and Street Fight completed the order of finish.
Gunite’s win was his second following a score at Churchill Downs in his third career start and a second-place finish behind High Oak in the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) last time out. Now an earner of $293,988 lifetime, Gunite is a third-generation Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred; his stakes-winning dam (Simple Surprise) and granddam (Simplify) also shared the maroon and white silks.
“The distance, it was a little too short,” Asmussen said of Gunite’s first 2 starts. “But we were anxious to get the Gun Runners running. He’s from a solid sprint family of the Winchells with Gun Runner giving him some endurance. But he’s very durable, mentally and physically. As much pressure as we put on him, he accepted it.”
Asmussen, who tied Todd Pletcher’s 2010 record of 5 Grade 1 training wins in a single meet, said that the 1-mile Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on October 2, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile, is likely next.
“I love him for more 2-year-old races this year. We know what we want his next 2 races to be and we feel really good about them,” Asmussen said. “The Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup are what we’re hoping his next 2 races are. I love his style for the Juvenile. He’s going to travel and we’ll try to take it. We’re very proud of him.”
Gunite returned $25.20 to win, $6.90 to place, and $5.40 to show. Wit brought back $2.80 to place and $2.40 to show. Kevin’s Folly paid $6.80 to show.
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