SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It did not take long for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen to claim another graded stakes victory at Saratoga Race Course after sweeping Saturday’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt with Jackie’s Warrior and Grade 2 Jim Dandy with Epicenter, waiting just 24 hours to watch Gunite award him with a repeat win in Sunday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomores.
“We’ve been blessed with some extremely nice horses, and they make it all possible,” said a grateful Asmussen.
Gunite was a convincing winner of his last outing at Saratoga in September when he scored a Grade 1 triumph in the Hopeful for Asmussen, who took last year’s Amsterdam with the revered Jackie’s Warrior.
This year, Gunite continues to cement the legacy of his sire and top Asmussen alumnus Gun Runner. He became the second Grade 1 winner for Gun Runner in the span of two days last summer with is Hopeful victory, following just one day after the Asmussen-trained Echo Zulu awarded their young sire with his first Grade 1 winner in the Spinaway. The Amsterdam was the second win of the year for Gunite, who entered from a half-length score after a poor break in the Maxfield on July 3 at Churchill Downs.
Ridden to victory by returning rider Tyler Gaffalione, Gunite was off a step slow from post 2 but quickly regained his footing and rushed up in the two-path to challenge Grade 1-winner Pinehurst for the lead through an opening quarter-mile in 21.78 seconds over the fast main track. The two continued to lead well ahead of a struggling Corniche, who was under a strong ride from Luis Saez in the early stages of the turn and through a half-mile in a demanding 44.60 seconds.
With Pinehurst retreating from his prominent position, Gunite continued to find more under Gaffalione but was soon met with a challenge to his outside from maiden winner Accretive, who made up ground with giant strides under Irad Ortiz, Jr. Runninsonofagun and Pappacap battled on for show honors as the field stormed through the stretch, but there was no catching the top two as they battled on from the sixteenth pole to the finish.
The determined Gunite was able to persevere to the wire and post a neck score over Accretive in a final time of 1:15.75. Runninsonofagun finished 4 1/4 lengths back in third with Pappacap rounding out the superfecta. My Prankster, Hoist the Gold, Surfer Dude, Pinehurst and Corniche completed the order of finish.
Gaffalione said Gunite is always game for a challenge.
“First off, all the credit goes to Steve and his team. They did a fabulous job bringing him over here and getting him ready to run, but he showed in the past that he likes to fight,” said Gaffalione. “Last time, he snuck up the rail and had a duel all the way to the wire. Today wasn’t any different. He likes the competition.”
Gunite showed the same heart he did when winning the Hopeful in determined fashion last year, losing the advantage at the top of the lane but battling back to post his commanding victory, something Asmussen said he was pleased to see.
“In his last race, he wasn’t away cleanly and it put him in a different position. I thought that was a similar race to the horse we ran here last year, just handy and in a good spot, tenacious to the wire,” Asmussen said.
Asmussen added Gunite will likely target the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial on August 27 at the Spa.
“Extremely good win and obviously we’re on to the Allen Jerkens from here,” said Asmussen.
A homebred for Winchell Thoroughbreds, Gunite now boasts a 3-2-1-0 record at the Spa, including his breakout win in the Hopeful and a game runner-up effort in the Saratoga Special last year. His other win was his maiden-breaking score at third asking last June at Churchill Downs.
Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds said Gunite’s Saratoga endeavors have been rewarding.
“It’s just nice to come back to where he won his Grade 1 last year and have another win in a Grade 2,” Winchell said. “He was training great. He was training like he wanted to go on from his 2-year-old year and do exactly what he did. Sometimes, you never know if they move on and continue to win graded stakes, but he got it done today.”
Gunite banked $110,000 for his victory, boosting his total purse earnings to $548,099 and returning $16.80 for a $2 win wager.
Ortiz, Jr. said the Chad Brown-trained Accretive, whose only start was a debut win on June 26 at Belmont Park, was admirable in defeat.
“My horse ran a huge race,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “It’s a big jump up and a huge improvement.”
Saez, who was aboard the post-time favorite and well-beaten Corniche, said the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt will benefit from getting a start under his belt.
“He broke good and was in a good position. He was right there,” said Saez. “He probably needed the race.”
Live racing resumes on Wednesday at Saratoga with a 10-race card. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Saratoga Race Course, and the best way to bet every race of the summer meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
By Mary Eddy
Main Photo Gunite staves off a challenge by Accretive to win by a neck. (NYRA/Coglianese)