Champion Echo Zulu looks to rebound in G1 Acorn

June 7, 2022

ELMONT, NY— Breeders’ Cup winner and reigning Eclipse Award Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Echo Zulu will look to recapture the dominant form she displayed in her first five starts when cutting back to a one-turn mile in the Grade 1, $500,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday, Belmont Stakes Day, at Belmont Park.

The Acorn – one of eight Grade 1 events on a loaded card that will culminate with the 154th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets – will give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his first opportunity to see how Echo Zulu responds to a loss.

Owned by L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds, the three-time Grade 1-winner was 5-for-5 entering the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs and pressed pacesetter Yuugiri before tiring late and finishing fourth as Secret Oath bested the 14-horse field on the wet fast track.

But the daughter of Gun Runner, the 2017 Horse of the Year who Asmussen also trained, will return to Belmont for the first time since romping to a 7 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1 Frizette in September at the Acorn distance. That effort was part of an award-winning juvenile campaign in which Echo Zulu won the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga Race Course in September in her second career start and followed the Frizette with a gate-to-wire 5 1/4 length score in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Del Mar that secured Eclipse Award honors.

In her 3-year-old bow, Echo Zulu again utilized her front-running ability to go the distance, wiring a six-horse field to win the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks in edging Hidden Connection by a nose in March before her first out-of-the-money effort last month in Louisville. She will now try to use her speed going just one turn on Belmont’s Big Sandy.

“I’m very comfortable with her going back to the mile with how brilliant she is,” Asmussen said. “She made a good account of herself on some very trying circumstances in the Oaks, but I’m extremely happy about the opportunity to back her up to the one-turn mile at Belmont, where she ran a brilliant race in last year’s Frizette.”

Jockey Joel Rosario, aboard for her last four starts including the Breeders’ Cup, Frizette and Fair Grounds Oaks victory, will have the return call from post 5.

“I thought she ran great in the Oaks to miss being second by a length and off one race for the year,” said Dave Fiske, Winchell’s racing and bloodstock advisor. “I thought she did really well. As fast as she is, you’d have to figure she’s going to be more effective around one turn.

“She seems to be as fast as she’s always been,” Fiske added. “I watched her work last week and her exercise rider couldn’t have been standing any taller, any straighter in the irons. He just had hands on her withers and never moved.”

While Echo Zulu will be cutting back in distance, Godolphin homebred Matareya will be stretching out for trainer Brad Cox following three consecutive wins in sprints. The Pioneerof the Nile filly started her 3-year-old year with a 5 1/4-length win going six furlongs against allowance company in February at Fair Grounds and proved just as effective when stepping up in class, cruising to an 8 1/2-length victory in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Beaumont in April at Keeneland.

On the same day as the Kentucky Oaks, Matareya handled a faster track than Echo Zulu ran on later in the day, posting a 2 1/4 length victory over Pretty Birdie in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Eight Belles.

The Acorn will mark Matareya’s first route of the year. Previously, she concluded 2021 with a runner-up effort in a one-mile allowance tilt on New Year’s Eve at Oaklawn Park. With a 4-2-0 record in seven starts, her only off-the-board effort game in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades in her second career start in October at Keeneland.

Matareya will put her winning streak on the line in her Belmont debut as Cox goes for his second career Acorn win following Monomoy Girl’s triumph in 2018. Flavien Prat will be in the irons from post 4.

Dream Lith will return to the main track after running fifth in her turf debut in the Grade 2 Edgewood on May 6 at Churchill for trainer Robertino Diodoro. Before her sojourn on the grass, the Medaglia d’Oro filly made five consecutive graded stakes starts on the main track, including a fifth in her second career appearance in the Grade 1 Spinaway won by Echo Zulu at the Spa.

Dream Lith, owned by Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith, capped her 2021 campaign with a victory in the Grade 2 Golden Rod going 1 1/16 miles in November at Churchill.

In her 3-year-old year, Diodoro has kept entering Dream Lith against stellar competition, where she ran sixth in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra in February at Fair Grounds, fifth in the Grade 3 Fantasy in April at Oaklawn and fifth last out. Diodoro said he’s hoping the experience gained in her high-level races will help nurture her talent.

“The key is to get her to relax,” Diodoro said. “She’s her own worst enemy and we’re slowly working on making headway with her to get her to relax. She can get washy in the paddock and post parade just with her nerves, but improving that comes with maturity and schooling and we’re getting there with her.”

Diodoro said the conditions last out, with inclement weather causing a softer surface, made it more difficult to assess her ability on the turf and did not rule out a return engagement in the future.

“I don’t think we got a true read on the grass with her,” Diodoro said. “It rained several minutes before the race and turned into a pretty soft turf course and she just didn’t like it, but I think at some point in her career, we’ll try her again on the grass.”

Dream Lith will break from post 1 with Ramon Vazquez set to ride.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Repole Stable and Woodford Racing’s Inventing for her stakes debut. The Union Rags filly started her career in April and posted runner-up efforts in each of her first two starts, starting at Gulfstream Park and continuing last out when second to Olga Isabel on May 6 at Churchill. She completed her preparation on June 4, working in company with Malathaat through a four-furlong breeze in 48.75.

Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be aboard from post 2.

Rounding out the field is Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stables’ Divine Huntress for trainer Graham Motion.

The sophomore daughter of Divining Rod [post 3, Luis Saez] posted a maiden win in December at Parx Racing and followed one more later with a smart optional-claiming score. She has finished off-the-board in her last three outings, all in graded company.

The Acorn is slated as Race 3 on Saturday’s 13-race card which features a first post of 11:20 a.m. Eastern with the Belmont Stakes set for Race 11.

By Brian Bohl/ NYRA Press Office

Photo: Janet Garaguso

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