One day after Gun Runner celebrated his first Grade 1 winner with Echo Zulu in the Spinaway (G1), the leading freshman sire accomplished an historic double when Gunite upset Monday’s $300,000 Hopeful (G1). Earlier on the card, Tell Your Daddy wired the $186,000 Bernard Baruch H. (G2) following a key scratch.
Not since legendary stallion Bold Ruler has a sire swept both of Saratoga’s premier events for juveniles. Bold Ruler achieved the Hopeful/Spinaway feat twice, in 1967 with What a Pleasure and Queen of the Stage and in 1969 with Irish Castle and Meritus. Gun Runner has one-upped that all-time great by getting his Hopeful and Spinaway winners in his very first crop.
Gunite shares most of the same connections with Echo Zulu. A homebred for Winchell Thoroughbreds, which co-owns Echo Zulu with L and N Racing, Gunite is likewise trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and piloted by Ricardo Santana.
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Unlike odds-on Echo Zulu in the Spinaway, however, Gunite was overlooked as an 11.60-1 shot in the Hopeful. The dark bay colt didn’t brandish a perfect record like his stablemate. After taking three starts to break his maiden at Churchill Downs, Gunite was second to High Oak in the Aug. 14 Saratoga Special (G2).
But the gritty Gunite turned the tables on High Oak Monday, in the process upstaging 0.65-1 favorite Wit. At the start, Wit took a stumble, getting away worse than his characteristically slow starts.
Gunite had trouble out of the gate as well. Off a beat slow and bumped around, he found himself behind horses. Gunite had the physical ability and mental strength to escape that position, showing gears to alter course and grab a seam on the rail.
Now deploying his early speed, Gunite was just a half-length off Headline Report through the opening quarter in :22.23 on the good track, and soon took over. At the half in :44.49, Gunite was a half-length up on Headline Report, with Defend pressing in third.
Then Gunite began to get away from his rivals turning into the stretch. Wit rallied into second, but could not threaten, and High Oak was trudging one-paced in fourth. Gunite stayed on doggedly and increased his margin to 5 3/4 lengths, finishing seven furlongs in 1:23.08 and paying $25.20.
“I loved how he went through the wire,” Asmussen said. “He didn’t get away great today. Ricardo (Santana) said there was just a little bit of bumping. Going 22 and 1 to 44 and 2, and to look how he did it to the wire, it’s going to be exciting going forward.
“I was concerned we weren’t where we expected to be in the first hundred yards. But I watched the race from up the stretch and Ricardo, coming into the stretch, moved his hands a bit but had him plenty gathered up. I felt really good then.”
Wit’s trainer, fellow Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, credited the favorite for trying to recover from the start.
“He probably compromised himself,” Pletcher said. “I thought he put in a good, sustained run. It was a tough spot to come from.
“He took a decent chunk out of both quarters. I’m not saying he felt it during the race. It was the result of stumbling away from there.”
The hitherto unbeaten Sanford (G3) winner, Wit was a brave runner-up by three lengths from the 28-1 Kevin’s Folly, who bested the 2.90-1 High Oak by a half-length for third. Next came Power Agenda, Big Scully, Volcanic, Headline Report, Kitodan, Defend, and the eased Street Fight.
Gunite improved his record to 5-2-2-1, $293,988. Closing to place in his first two starts at five furlongs, he changed to front-running tactics to break through over six on June 26. Gunite added blinkers for the Saratoga Special, where he dueled early before holding second. He progressed from that effort, as Asmussen observed.
“It’s state of mind. We’ve been aggressive with him, and he’s put on weight and gotten stronger the whole time. We’ve been through the roof with how well he’s doing.”
The Kentucky-bred is out of the Cowboy Cal mare Simple Surprise, who like her dam Simplify, is a stakes-winning sprinter. So was Simplify’s half-sister, multiple stakes scorer Classify. But Gunite has more range than his speedy family.
“The distance (of his first two starts), it was a little too short,” Asmussen said. “But we were anxious to get the Gun Runners running. He’s from a solid sprint family of the Winchells with Gun Runner giving him some endurance. But he’s very durable, mentally and physically. As much pressure as we put on him, he accepted it.”
Gunite will now point for the Oct. 2 Champagne (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
“I love him for more two-year-old races this year,” Asmussen added. “We know what we want his next two races to be and we feel really good about them. The Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup are what we’re hoping his next two races are. I love his style for the Juvenile. He’s going to travel, and we’ll try to take it. We’re very proud of him.”
Bernard Baruch H. (G2)
With morning-line favorite En Wye Cee scratched from the Bernard Baruch, Flying P Stable’s Tell Your Daddy capitalized as lone speed on a yielding Mellon course. The 2.95-1 chance dictated terms of :24.92, :50.75, and 1:15.54, and held off No Word by a half-length. L’Imperator, the 0.75-1 favorite, offered a brief bid but flattened out in third, followed by Dreams of Tomorrow in the four-horse field.
Under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Tell Your Daddy negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.61 to notch his first stakes win.
“We were going to try and go to the lead anyway,” trainer Tom Morley said, “but Todd (Pletcher-trained En Wye Cee) coming out was a big help in terms of the fact that we thought we’d be able to clear. I wasn’t going to give Johnny any instructions, but Jay (Jason Provenzano, owner Flying P Stables) and I had discussed the fact when he rode him last time, I’d love to see what he could do on the front end in one of these races.”
That prior start was the Aug. 7 Lure S. at this course and distance, where Tell Your Daddy chased the victorious Flavius throughout in second. The Scat Daddy gelding, who was claimed for $40,000 at Fair Grounds back in January, has been a useful stakes performer for his new connections. A close fourth in the Apr. 24 Elusive Quality S. at Belmont Park, Tell Your Daddy also placed third in the May 22 Seek Again S. His resume now reads 24-4-4-2, $325,646.
Bred by Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky, Tell Your Daddy is out of the stakes-winning Harbingerofthings, by Rockport Harbor. The dark bay sold for $250,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton’s Turf Showcase.