May 26, 2024

Echo Zulu, Wicked Halo give Asmussen strong one-two punch in Dogwood

Echo Zulu wins the Spinaway Stakes (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

Having entered last year’s juvenile filly champion Echo Zulu and multiple Grade 2 winner Wicked Halo, trainer Steve Asmussen has left no doubt that he isn’t playing games in Saturday night’s $275,000 Dogwood S. (G3) at Churchill Downs.

Contested at seven furlongs for three-year-old fillies, the Dogwood anchors an 11-race “Downs After Dark” program that includes several other stakes. Post time for the Dogwood, Race 9 on the program, is 10:11 p.m. ET.

Echo Zulu, who endured her first career defeat in May when fourth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), is making her first start since that race. A three-time Grade 1 winner at two and victorious in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) in her season debut, Echo Zulu will have most eyes on her as she breaks from post 1.

Wicked Halo is proving to be no slouch herself. The gray enters the Dogwood on a three-stakes win streak, including the Leslie’s Lady S. and Tepin S. during the Churchill spring meet, and the Prioress (G2) at Saratoga most recently.

Although hard to look beyond those two, the Dogwood has a few other intriguing entries. Last Leaf has also won three stakes in a row, albeit at lower levels, the latest being the Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park. Tarabi chased Echo Zulu in vain twice last season, but enters off a win in the restricted Wilton S. at Saratoga, while the Todd Pletcher-trained Colorful Mischief has won or placed in all four starts in overnight company.

Classic-placed Creative Minister will have a challenging assignment in the $275,000 Bourbon Trail S. for three-year-olds at 1 3/16 miles. A distant third in Saratoga’s Curlin S. and in the Smarty Jones (G3) at Parx in his last two, the Kenny McPeek trainee squares off against the likes of blowout Pegasus S. winner Home Brew, graded-placed Gilded Age and Ethereal Road, and stakes newcomer Saint Tapit, a Todd Pletcher-trained son of Tapit and 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.

Grade 1 veteran Gunite, coming off a win in the Amsterdam (G2) and a second in the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at Saratoga, looks the horse to far in the $275,000 Harrods Creek S. for three-year-olds at seven furlongs, while Rachel Alexandra (G2) heroine Turnerloose looks to halt a four-race losing skid in the $160,000 Seneca S., a 1 1/16-mile test for three-year-old fillies that kicks off Saturday’s stakes action.