Gun Pilot Tops Field for G2 True North

June 3, 2024

Gun Pilot pulls clear to win the Churchill Downs (G1) May 4 (Jenny Doyle/Past The Wire)

By Mary Eddy – NYRA Press Office

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Three Chimneys Farm’s Kentucky homebred Gun Pilot brings Grade 1-winning form to Saturday’s Grade 2, $350,000 True North presented by F.W. Webb, a 6 1/2-furlong main track sprint for older horses, at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.

The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which spans Thursday through Sunday, is highlighted by the 156th edition of the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, June 8. The four-day Festival will include 24 stakes races with purses totaling $10.25 million, the highest purse levels and number of stakes offered since the launch of the multi-day Festival in 2014.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Gun Pilot enters from an emphatic 2 1/2-length score in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Churchill Downs on May 4 at its namesake track. Guided by returning rider Cristian Torres, the son of Gun Runner was 3 1/2 lengths off the pace at the half-mile call, but displayed an impressive turn of foot to take the lead at the stretch call, and drew clear to complete the course in 1:21.95. The effort earned a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

“He ran a hell of a race and fulfilled his potential winning the Grade 1 at Churchill,” said Doug Cauthen, Vice Chairman of Three Chimneys Farm. “Steve and everyone on the Three Chimneys team always had high hopes for him. He came out of the race well, according to Steve. He’s a big, gorgeous horse. He was a nice horse last year, and he’s matured into a really good horse this year.”

Gun Pilot has blossomed in his 4-year-old season after a cutback to sprinting and a seven-month respite that ended with a triumphant return in January in a second-level optional claiming sprint at Fair Grounds Race Course. His 3-for-4 campaign thus far builds upon a 3-year-old season that saw him make 5-of-6 starts at distances of one mile or more, yielding one win and a runner-up effort in the Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park.

Cauthen said the talented colt’s later development is reminiscent of his sire, the Three Chimneys co-owned and Asmussen-trained Hall of Famer Gun Runner, who flashed his talents early as a sophomore, but flourished at ages 4 and 5 when winning five consecutive Grade 1s.

“I think maturity and patience, a lot like his sire, [have helped],” said Cauthen. “Gun Runner was a really good 3-year-old, and got at the top level at the end of his 3-year-old year, and then was an amazing 4-year-old. We’re hoping for some similar things with Gun Pilot, just to continue to improve as a 4-year-old.”

The True North could serve as a steppingstone to the seven-furlong Grade 1 Forego in August at the Spa. With a Grade 1 win already on his resume, Cauthen said Gun Pilot is already an attractive stallion prospect.

“The ability to win at one turn is exciting because of the speed that that shows, and we’re obviously hoping to see him in the stallion barn at Three Chimneys in the future,” said Cauthen. “The Churchill Downs has been important for a long time, even when it was a Grade 2. Distorted Humor won it, and we saw his development as a stallion. Breeders love speed, and he has the looks of a two-turn kind of horse as well. He’s a big, powerful, scopey horse, and I think breeders are really going to like what they see. God willing, the Forego is the ultimate target.”

Cauthen added that he is confident Gun Pilot’s class will lead to no issue turning back a half-furlong from the Churchill Downs.

“I think seven [furlongs] is his favorite distance and six and a half may be a little short for him, but time will tell,” said Cauthen. “Those races are always tough, depending on trip, but he’s a really nice horse, so we’re looking forward to seeing him run.”

Torres will ride from post 5.

LC Racing’s Ninetyprcentmaddie looks to avenge a narrow second last-out in the Grade 3 Runhappy when defeated a neck by Joey Freshwater after a stalking trip engineered by Irad Ortiz, Jr. on May 11. The effort equaled a career-best 90 Beyer he earned two starts back when second in the Page McKenney Handicap in April at Parx Racing.

“I thought he ran very well last time,” said trainer Butch Reid, Jr. “In fact, Irad was a little upset with himself that he didn’t get the money in there. He had to check up a little and was a little late switching leads when he finally swung out. He was running really well at the end, he just missed.”

The consistent Pennsylvania-bred son of Weigelia has hit the board in 12-of-16 starts, including wins last year in an off-the-turf edition of the Carle Place at Aqueduct Racetrack and a 9 3/4-length romp in the City of Brotherly Love at Parx.

Ninetyprcentmaddie, who sports a 16-5-5-2 record and $420,180 in earnings, posted a half-mile breeze in 51.16 seconds over the Parx main track Saturday, a move Reid, Jr. said is typical of the bay gelding.

“He’s not a real good breeze horse. He only went in 51 [seconds] or so, but that’s him and he knows what he’s doing,” said Reid, Jr. “He handled it well and I’m expecting a good race out of him.”

Jose Lezcano picks up the mount from the inside post.

Pantofel Stable, Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber and Jerold Zaro’s multiple graded stakes-placed Baby Yoda [post 7, Eric Cancel] seeks a breakthrough score on the heels of a determined seven-furlong allowance-level win on May 3 at Belmont at the Big A. The son of Prospective returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since October 2022 with a wire-to-wire victory under Cancel, defeating returning rival Accretive by a neck and earning a 90 Beyer.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the 6-year-old gelding was a force to be reckoned with at the 2021 Saratoga meet, posting a starter allowance win that July ahead of a 4 1/4-length allowance win over Grade 1-winning stablemate Olympiad in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance, which garnered a lofty 114 Beyer. Though the dark bay has yet to produce a comparable performance, Mott said he believes Baby Yoda still has strong efforts left to be given.

“I’m optimistic. I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Mott. “He did [it before]. 114 Beyer. He’s got it in him to run good.”

Baby Yoda posted his final work in prep for the True North Sunday over Saratoga’s Oklahoma dirt training track, covering a half-mile in 47.40 seconds.

“He worked good, especially by himself,” said Mott.

Klaravich Stables’ Accretive [post 4, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] hit the board in a pair of Grade 2s this fall at Belmont at the Big A, finishing a respective second and third in the seven-furlong Vosburgh and one-mile Forty Niner ahead of an off-the-board finish in the Grade 2 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets.

Trained by four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown, the son of Practical Joke finished second in his last two outings at Aqueduct, most recently in the aforementioned tilt won by Baby Yoda. As a sophomore, he earned a career-best 101 Beyer when defeated a neck by multiple Grade 1-winner Gunite in the Grade 2 Amsterdam at the Spa.

Completing the field are William Butler’s graded stakes-placed New York homebred Rotknee [post 2, Manny Franco] for trainer Mike Maker; Winning Move Stable’s last-out allowance-winner Gun It [post 6, Jose Ortiz] for trainer Linda Rice; and Runhappy third-place finisher Twenty Four Mamba [post 3, Dylan Davis] for trainer Charlie Baker and owners Playing The Field Racing, Final Turn Racing Stable, WLIR Racing Stables and Acqua Nova Stable.

The True North is slated as Race 4 on Saturday’s lucrative 14-race Belmont Stakes Card, headlined by the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in Race 12. The card will also feature seven additional graded events in the Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap in Race 10; the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World Casino Manhattan in Race 11; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps presented by Ford in Race 7; the Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur presented by Resolute Racing in Race 9; the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun in Race 8; the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban in Race 6; and the Grade 3, $350,000 Poker in Race 5. First post is 10:45 a.m. Eastern.

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