Gunite, Echo Zulu Set Sights on Breeders’ Cup After Besting Champions

August 27, 2023

Gunite after his winning effort in the Forego (Joe Labozzetta)

G1 Pennsylvania Derby a Possibility for Disarm

NYRA Press Office

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— To be the champ, you have to beat the champ. And Winchell Thoroughbreds, in collaboration with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, did just that with two Gun Runner progeny in a pair of Grade 1 events on the Travers Day program at Saratoga Race Course.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Gunite kicked off Grade 1 action when turning the tables on reigning Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power in the $500,000 Forego going seven furlongs. Piloted by Tyler Gaffalione, the dark bay colt set an easy early tempo and fended off Elite Power’s inside rally to win by 1 3/4 lengths and register a 101 Beyer Speed Figure – his eighth triple-digit number to date.

The redeeming triumph came following the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 29 at the Spa, where he appeared poised for victory at the top of the stretch but couldn’t fend off the late outside rally of Elite Power, who won by a head.

The win was a second Grade 1 victory for Gunite, who captured the 2021 Hopeful at Saratoga by 5 3/4 lengths. He has never finished worse than second at Saratoga in six starts.

David Fiske, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, spoke of Gunite’s consistency and compared him to his multiple stakes-winning New York-bred millionaire Bankit.

“He’s just such a cool horse. He always shows up, he’s always dependable,” Fiske said. “He’s like the new Bankit. You can always depend on him. So far, he’s never let us down. To see him get another Grade 1; one as a 2-year-old, one as a 4-year-old; and head to the Breeders’ Cup for the second year in a row is satisfying and gratifying. He’s so cool and I was so glad to watch him get it done.”

Fourth in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland, Gunite will target this year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park and will likely have one more start beforehand.

While the Grade 2, $250,000 Vosburgh on September 30 at Belmont at the Big A and the Grade 2, $350,000 Phoenix on October 6 at Keeneland – both “Win And You’re In” events for the Sprint – are both logical next targets for Gunite, Fiske did not rule out the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship on September 30 as a possible next start.

“We haven’t talked about it, but that could be a possibility,” Fiske said. “I know that Steve has a habit of shipping early, whether it’s to California for the Breeders’ Cup or Dubai for the World Cup. Curlin went to Dubai about two months before and even got a race in over there beforehand. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

While Gunite will likely race once before his Breeders’ Cup endeavor, Echo Zulu is likely to train up to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint after she secured a “Win and You’re In” berth in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina at Saratoga.

Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds in partnership with L and N Racing, Echo Zulu defeated last year’s Champion Female Sprinter and defending Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Goodnight Olive, who also won last year’s Ballerina.

Like Gunite, Echo Zulu also set an early tempo down the backstretch and kept Goodnight Olive at bay in upper stretch before strolling home a 2 1/2-length winner over Goodnight Olive, with dual Grade 1-winner Matareya completing the trifecta.

Echo Zulu produced a 112 Beyer, which is the co-highest figure recorded by any thoroughbred this year. She registered the same number when capturing the Grade 2 Honorable Miss on July 26 at the Spa by 7 1/4 lengths. Godolphin’s Cody’s Wish earned a 112 Beyer when capturing the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan on June 10 at Belmont Park.

“Obviously, we all knew she was fast. A 112 Beyer is the fastest number anyone has run this year and she did it two times in a row. To do that a second time, that was pretty impressive,” Fiske said. “She’s a little bit different than Gunite. Steve said Gunite would probably run again before the Breeders’ Cup. Echo seems to run well when fresh and yesterday was kind of a third race in a cycle. Steve may just wait and train her up to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Echo Zulu, the 2021 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly, was second in last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint, where she drew post 13 and was five wide in the through the turn, finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind Goodnight Olive.

“Last year in the Breeders’ Cup, Echo Zulu was a little disadvantaged by post position and how the race shaped up. It just didn’t break her way that day, but she still ran a good second. Yesterday was an excellent race,” Fiske said. “In the filly and mare sprint division there aren’t many Grade 1s, so if Echo Zulu can win again, she’s probably the Eclipse winner. I would think if Gunite could win the Sprint, he would be the champion.”

Last year, Winchell and Asmussen enjoyed their first Grade 1 Travers victory when Epicenter strolled home a 5 1/4-length winner en route to Champion 3-Year-Old Colt honors. They took home the silver medal this time around when graded stakes-winner Disarm launched a strong inside rally, finishing one length behind the victorious Arcangelo. The effort, his first in blinkers, garnered a career-high 103 Beyer.

“He just seems to get incrementally better,” Fiske said. “[The blinkers] didn’t hurt. It’s hard to say how much of a difference they made because he did run some pretty credible races without the blinkers. I suspect he’ll run back with them because like I said, they didn’t hurt him at all.”

Fiske mentioned the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on September 23 at Parx Racing as a possibility for Disarm, who achieved millionaire status with his Travers effort.

“We really weren’t having that discussion last night, so I’d say all options are on the table,” Fiske said. “Going into the race, there was some talk about the Pennsylvania Derby. I think we were kicking around either [two-time winner] Magic Tap or Disarm as to who might be our Pennsylvania Derby horse. We’ll talk this week, regroup and come up with some sort of plan.”

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