Asmussen Hopes for Gun Runner Double on Saturday

Gunite and his stablemate Disarm preparing for a big weekend in Saratoga Sarah Andrew

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A few weeks before the opening of the Saratoga meet, Steve Asmussen paid a visit to Lexington to see an old friend. The Hall of Fame conditioner stopped by Three Chimneys Farm, as he does regularly, to check in on Gun Runner.

“It's Three Chimneys,” Asmussen explained with a shrug from his barn at the Oklahoma earlier this week. “It's a beautiful place and Gun Runner deserves the adulation. He is a very special horse.”

A few hours after he made that statement, Asmussen's star filly Echo Zulu, of course a daughter of Gun Runner, earned her seventh career graded stakes victory in the GII Honorable Miss H. on Wednesday. The 'TDN Rising Star' and champion juvenile was gearing down at the wire as she won by 7 1/4 lengths.

The Asmussen and Winchell Thoroughbreds camp is hoping that win was just the start of a big weekend for their Horse of the Year-turned-sire sensation.

On Saturday, two sons of Gun Runner will sport the Winchell silks at Saratoga while facing graded stakes company. Gunite looks to get his second career Grade I victory in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt S. while Disarm returns to the track where he first saw the winner's circle for the GII Jim Dandy S.

Disarm has struggled to cross the wire first as a 3-year-old, but he put in solid efforts throughout the year when he was second in the GII Louisiana Derby, third in the GIII Lexington S. and fourth in the GI Kentucky Derby. He got his first win on the year over a sloppy track in the GIII Matt Winn S. on June 11.

“It was good to see him win,” said Asmussen. “He has run competitively, but has not been in the winner's circle since his maiden race, which was here in Saratoga last summer. With the fact that he has run at Saratoga and won, we're comfortable with how he'll handle the circumstances on the racetrack, but it's a very talented group for the Jim Dandy.”

As defining of a race for the 3-year-old crop as ever, the Jim Dandy drew the third, fourth and fifth-place finishers of this year's GI Kentucky Derby with Angel of Empire (Classic Empire), Disarm and Hit Show (Candy Ride {Arg}), but they'll all have to face reigning juvenile champion and GI Belmont S. runner-up Forte (Violence). Disarm and Forte will stand together in the starting gate, drawing the first and second post positions, respectively, for Saturday's mile and an eighth contest.

The ever-consistent Gunite has always put in strong performances at the Spa. As a juvenile he was second there in the GII Saratoga Special S. and went on to dominate in the GI Hopeful S. Last year at three, he claimed the GII Amsterdam S. at odds of 7-1 and then finished second to Jack Christopher (Munnings) in the GI H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S.

Disarm breaks his maiden in Saratoga last summer | Sarah Andrew

This year, Gunite returns to Saratoga with a two-for-four record as a 4-year-old and is coming off a win in the June 3 Aristides S. at Churchill Downs.

The seven-horse Vanderbilt field includes Juddmonte's champion sprinter Elite Power (Curlin), who bested Gunite earlier this year in the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in February, but Asmussen is as confident as ever in his star sprinter.

“He's coming off probably his fastest race ever with his win at Churchill,” he said. “He gets to run against Elite Power again, but Gunite has seen the best and it doesn't bother him. He brings it all the time.”

Asmussen has always a big believer in Gunite and the grit the dark bay has shown throughout his career. He recalled how Gunite made the trip west for the Breeders' Cup in 2021 not to compete himself, but to help prepare Echo Zulu for her winning bid in the Juvenile Fillies.

“We took him to California because I didn't want to change Echo Zulu's workmate before the Breeders' Cup,” Asmussen explained. “For him to still be running at this level is so rare.”

Asmussen finds several similarities in these two sons of Gun Runner.

“As far as what their specialty is, that might separate them, but their similarities are their attitude and their approach to training,” he explained. “They're extremely hardy–their appetite, how they take pressure. It's a quality that I think they definitely get from Gun Runner.”

Saratoga seems to be a productive place for Gun Runner, who earned two Grade I victories there in 2017 in the Whitney S. and the Woodward S. In 2021, two of the top performers out of his first crop made a statement on closing weekend when Echo Zulu claimed the GI Spinaway S. and the next day, Gunite took home the Hopeful.

“How could you top that one?” Asmussen said with a laugh. “I don't think it's possible, but that actually did happen. You couldn't be a bigger Gun Runner fan than I am, but to see him come out setting records like he does is extremely special.”

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