July 23, 2024

Wicked Halo, Gunite possibly Breeders’ Cup bound after winning Raven Run, Perryville

Wicked Halo wins the 2022 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland (Photo by Coady Photography)

Two weeks out from the Nov. 4-5 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, a pair of Saturday sprint stakes contested over the Lexington racetrack produced flashy results with possible Breeders’ Cup implications.

First up was $250,000 Perryville S. for three-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs on dirt. Last year’s Hopeful S. (G1) winner Gunite was an odds-on favorite after sandwiching victories in the Maxfield S., Amsterdam S. (G2), and Harrods Creek S. around a runner-up finish in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1), and the son of Gun Runner delivered on expectations.

Gunite wins the Perryville Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

With Tyler Gaffalione in the saddle for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Gunite tracked early fractions of :22.38 and :45.82 from third place, then pounced to the front and drew off to dominate by 3 3/4 lengths. The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred reached the finish line in 1:23.21 while Hoist the Gold, B Dawk, Artorius, Friar Laurence, Of a Revolution, and Provocateur completed the order of finish.

“It was very easy for him. He’s a very talented colt. I’m just so blessed to be able to ride him,” Gaffalione told Keeneland. “I can’t thank Steve and Mr. Winchell enough for this opportunity. He’s a very special horse. I had a great post, so I just helped him get out there, get him underneath himself, and he does the rest.”

Following the race, Asmussen indicated the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) is a possible goal for Gunite.

“This was the first test: how he handles Keeneland,” said Asmussen. “I thought he ran really well. He was very comfortable and looked great over the race track. Now it will all be about how he comes back. But we have until Monday (the Breeders’ Cup pre-entry deadline) to decide.”

Later in the afternoon, Gaffalione, Asmussen, and Winchell Thoroughbreds reunited to win the $350,000 Raven Run S. (G2) with Wicked Halo, a three-year-old daughter of Gun Runner fresh off a victory in the Prioress S. (G2) at Saratoga.

Wicked Halo started as the Raven Run favorite while facing eight other sophomore fillies and produced pretty much the same performance as Gunite, tracking splits of :22.73 and :46.09 from third position before seizing command to dominate by four lengths in 1:24.30. Fingal’s Cave, Midnight Stroll, Freedom Speaks, Fast Leaf, Smash Ticket, Colorful Mischief, Republique, and Union Lake rounded out the order of finish.

“(Winning the two stakes is) extremely special,” said Asmussen, referring to the victories by Gunite and Wicked Halo. “Their level of ability is obvious, but the fact that they thrive with racing and have continued to get better is so rare. I think she (Wicked Halo) and Gunite are very similar in the fact that they’ve just accepted their job and continuously gotten faster. Obviously, they’re very sound horses—great homebreds for Winchell. I’m very fortunate to have them.”

With five stakes wins under her belt, including three graded prizes, Wicked Halo has emerged among the leading sprinters of her generation. When asked about the Breeders’ Cup, Asmussen confirmed Wicked Halo would be considered for the two-day championship, with the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) presumably her target.