Gun Song Fires Big in G2 Black-Eyed Susan

May 17, 2024

Gun Song (Anika Miskar/Past The Wire)

Fifth Win in Pimlico’s Premiere 3YO Filly Race for Jockey Velazquez

Milestone 100th Running Capped Stakes-Filled Day on Preakness Eve

David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club

BALTIMORE, Md.— Her connections thought enough of Gun Song to make the 3-year-old filly an early nomination to the 2024 Triple Crown. Though those dreams never materialized, the chestnut daughter of newly elected Hall of Famer Gun Runner pulled down a major prize Friday at historic Pimlico Race Course in a milestone edition of the $300,000 George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan (G2).

Celebrating its 100th running this year, the 1 1/8-mile fixture for sophomore fillies was the centerpiece of a spectacular 14-race program featuring six stakes, three graded, worth $1 million in purses that served as a fitting prelude to Saturday’s 149th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. The 100th edition of Black-Eyed Susan Day produced a record total handle of $28.4 million.

While winning trainer Mark Hennig was visiting the infield cupola for the first time following the Black-Eyed Susan, it was the fifth trip for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who previously won the race with Added Gold (1998), Roar Emotion (2003), Spun Sugar (2005) and In Lingerie (2012).

The Black-Eyed Susan was the first race for Gun Song since finishing a troubled fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) March 30, which marked her stakes debut following an eye-catching 5 ¾-length optional claiming allowance triumph over the same course Feb. 9.

Velazquez settled Gun Song in the clear in second to the outside of 18-1 longshot Jeanne Marie, winner of the March 5 Main Line at Parx March 5 to open her season and runner-up last out in Laurel Park’s Weber City Miss April 20, who ran the opening quarter-mile in 24.20 seconds and a half in 49.47. Behind them Call Another Play, the Weber City Miss winner that earned an automatic Black-Eyed Susan berth thanks to her victory, and Grade 2-placed California shipper Corposo alternated running third.

Jeanne Marie was still in front rounding the far turn, six furlongs going in 1:13.16, but Velazquez had Gun Song poised to strike, which she did once the field straightened for home. With minimal urging from her rider, Gun Song took her cue and went on with a powerful run through the lane to win by 3 ¼ lengths in 1:51.39 over a fast main track. Corposo finished strongly to get second, a neck ahead of Call Another Play, followed by Whocouldaskformo, Lemon Muffin, Ringy Dingy, Jeanne Marie and Recharge.

Gun Song ran twice as a 2-year-old, winning a six-furlong maiden special weight by a neck last October and finishing third as the favorite in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance, both over a sloppy Aqueduct racetrack. Second to subsequent Ashland (G1) winner Leslie’s Rose in a Jan. 11 optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Park, she returned with a command performance next out.

The Black-Eyed Susan was the second straight try around two turns for Gun Song, who fetched $400,000 as a 2-year-old in training last March. Her sire won 12 of 19 career starts and nearly $16 million in purses, capping his career with five consecutive Grade 1 victories including the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch 2017 Horse of the Year honors, and the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational in his racing finale.

Making its debut in 1919 as the Pimlico Oaks, the Black-Eyed Susan was not run from 1932-36 and again in 1950 and was renamed upon its 1951 return to honor the Preakness and Maryland’s state flower. Nine of its winners have gone on to be named champion 3-year-old filly including Hall of Famers Davona Dale, Real Delight, Royal Delta, Serena’s Song, Silverbulletday and Twilight Tear.

Among other prominent Black-Eyed Susan winners are Hall of Famer Gallorette; Nellie Morse, the only filly to also win the Preakness, in 1924; But Why Not, Caesar’s Wish, High Voltage, Vagrancy, Wide Country and Wistful.

BLACK-EYED SUSAN (G2) QUOTES

Winning Trainer Mark Hennig (Gun Song); “I haven’t seen a replay yet, but I was happy to see the way the pace unfolded. After that last race when they went three-quarters in 1:15 and the speed stopped, maybe those riders checked their game plan and took back a little bit. I don’t know, but I was anticipating more pressure from the outside. When we didn’t get it – when I saw the three-quarters in 1:13, I thought, that’s two seconds faster than they just stopped going a sixteenth of a mile (shorter). But I was pleased to see her go on. Turning for home I could see she was pretty strong. Other than her last race, she always finishes very well. In my heart, I felt she was a good horse. I didn’t have any doubts she was a good horse. I had a little doubt about the distance after her last race. But I didn’t have enough doubt not to try this.”

(on relationship with Lee Lewis): “Forty years…. I was an assistant for Wayne (Lukas) at the time. Lee and I just always had a good relationship from that day forward. Last year I told him I had a bloodstock agent I wanted him to possibly team up with. We’d been trying to buy horses for (Lewis) without any help. It was hard because we just don’t have the manpower between Rosemary and I to go look at all the horses at Keeneland and all the 2-year-olds in training. Phil Hager of Taproot Bloodstock has done a good job. This was the first filly we bought. Off to a good start.”

A special garland for a special filly (Anika Miskar/Past The Wire)

(On winning big race like this) “It’s been a while.”

“The game continues to evolve. That was part of the reason I reached out to Lee and said, ‘Let’s do this the right way and get some good horses again.’ He stepped up, and I think we have a really nice group of babies coming up, too.”           

Winning Jockey John Velazquez (Gun Song): “I was a little concerned of me taking too much hold of her. I didn’t want to do that. But they were going so slow. She got relaxed on the backstretch and we were going so slow, so that I was thinking that, hopefully, when I let her go I didn’t choke her down. But once I put my hands down at the 3/8ths pole, she was relaxed and when I asked her at the quarter pole, she responded nice to me. I think she just got tired last time out (in Gulfstream Park Oaks). And then I worked her last week, and I knew she was ready. I knew this time she was quite ready for it. She’s a horse that kind of waits, and I wanted to make sure to keep her mind running. And she actually opened up. I didn’t know she was going to open up that much, but she did it nicely. I thought it was going to be a much faster pace, but it didn’t show up. So that’s why we inherited that pace, and it was pretty easy.”

Trainer Peter Eurton (Corposo, 2nd): “I am very proud of her. I think she is still very green. I am taking nothing away from the winner, she ran huge. She got the lead that they wanted. I am tickled, I thought she was done inside the quarter pole. She got a little more focused. She tends to look around and check things out. We are thinking she can build off this one.”

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione (Corposo, 2nd): “I was really happy with the filly. She’s still immature. The winner ran great today, but there’s nothing to hang our heads about finishing second.”

Trainer Michael Trombetta (Call Another Play, 3rd): “The race unfolded kind of the way that I would have expected. I would have thought she would be somewhere where she was sitting and to hopefully make a run at them, and she did. (Jockey Jaime Rodriguez) said she was in a little tight for a while. We would have liked to get to work a little sooner. It would have been nice (to get second) but we’ll absolutely take third. We love to have third.”

Jockey Jaime Rodriguez (Call Another Play, 3rd): “I love this filly. When I wanted her to go, I literally had no running room. She is quick and had nowhere to go. A better trip may have been a different outcome.”

Jockey Luis Saez (Whocouldaskformo, 4th): “She broke pretty nice. Shug told me to stay behind the speed and that is what we did. The pace was slow too. When we got to the top of the stretch, she made a nice move and came home well.”

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas (Lemon Muffin, 5th): “I think we got too far back and catching all that dirt and stuff. We just had too much to do on the stretch. She closed to be fifth, but I don’t think she could have made up the ground we had to make up coming from that far back at the quarter pole.”

Jockey Flavien Prat (Lemon Muffin, 5th): “There was no pace. We were too far back.”

Jockey Katie Davis (Ringy Dingy, 6th): “She is coming off a big layoff since December. Warming up she was very keen today. She needed this race, and I thought she ran really well for being off this long. She’ll be ready for the next one.”

Trainer Butch Reid Jr. (Jeanne Marie, 7th): “I thought she did fine. There’s no real excuse. She was in front, and the fractions were very reasonable, I thought. It’s not that handy of a racetrack right now, but so far Mikey (Sanchez) said she just got real tired. I think it’s proved that it’s a little bit farther than she probably really wants to go, but it was a quality effort. She’ll get a lot out of it. We’ll step back and get a little more reasonable spot, and I think she’ll be fine.”

Jockey Mychel Sanchez (Jeanne Marie, 7th“I think it went great. She was trying the whole way around. The instructions were to break and go to the lead. I think we did, but John (Velazquez on Gun Song) had too much horse. I think my filly got a little tired, but she ran great.”

Jockey Joel Rosario (Recharge, 8th): “She stumbled a bit out of the gaet, so I kept her wide the whole race. She ran good. Maybe with a better trip she would have won.”

@PastTheWire Great read brought back some sad memories.The only race she lost killed her. Legacy. @jonathanstettin pic.twitter.com/Jx9WF7OjUe

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