Gunite (Gun Runner) capped off a remarkable summer for both his freshman sire and his trainer on closing day Monday at Saratoga, shaking off pace pressure and kicking away in the stretch to an 11-1 upset of the GI Hopeful S. His well-earned victory made it a clean sweep of the Spa's annual marquee 2-year-old races for Three Chimneys Farm's freshman sensation Gun Runner after Echo Zulu dominated the GI Spinaway S. Sunday, and was the icing on the cake for Steve Asmussen, who had his most successful Saratoga season yet, highlighted by his becoming the all-time winningest trainer in North America earlier in the meet.
Lagging back early in his first two starts before rallying to finish third and then second, Gunite found his early foot third out June 26 at Churchill, dueling through a :21.68 quarter and edging away to a 1 1/2-length graduation. Going toe to toe with favored Doctor Jeff (Street Boss) in the GII Saratoga Special S. here last out Aug. 14, he won the battle with that rival fading to fifth, but lost the war, as he proved no match in the final furlong for re-opposing High Oak (Gormley).
Let go as the fourth choice in this Labor Day feature as the money poured in on 3-5 GIII Sanford S. romper Wit (Practical Joke) and 5-2 High Oak, Gunite was sent through a rail opening by Ricardo Santana, Jr. to be part of a three-way pace battle through a :22.23 quarter. Meanwhile, High Oak found a perfect spot tracking that trio in fourth while Wit landed in midpack after stumbling at the start. Getting rid of his pace rivals past a salty :44.46 half, Gunite arrived at the top of the lane in command, but appeared ripe for the picking as Wit navigated into the clear after saving ground on the bend. But the favorite could never muster a serious threat to the Winchell Thoroughbreds colorbearer, and Gunite kept to his task past the teeming Saratoga stands to finish the meet's stakes schedule with an exclamation point. Wit was able to hold second over 28-1 longshot Kevin's Folly (Distorted Humor), while High Oak checked in a disappointing fourth.
“I loved how he went through the wire,” said Asmussen, who won his third straight Hopeful. “He didn't get away great today. Ricardo 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. 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.”
“He's a really nice horse,” said Santana. “He can go to the lead, he can come from behind. He can do whatever you want. Today, I decided to take him back. [Early leader Defend] tried to blow the turn a little bit, so the rail opened. I made my move, and he was making his move by himself. I was really comfortable with him the whole race. He's getting better and better and better.”
The win gave Santana, who spends most of the year in Kentucky and is one of the last remaining Kentucky riders to summer in Saratoga, a fifth Grade I score at the meet.
“It's special,” he said. “Saratoga is one of the best tracks in North America. I'm really blessed. Five Grade I wins in one meet is unreal.”
Asmussen added that Gunite's next target will be the one-mile GI Champagne S. Oct. 2 at Belmont, a “Win and You're In” qualifier for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, saying, “I love him for more 2-year-old races this year. 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.”
Not only the second Grade I winner already for 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, Gunite is also a remarkable fourth graded stakes winner already for the chestnut, following aforementioned Echo Zulu, GII Adirondack S. heroine Wicked Halo and GII Best Pal S. victor Pappacap. He is the first foal to race out of Simple Surprise, who annexed the Bolton Landing S. for these connections over the local turf as a juvenile in 2015 and later added two stakes placings sprinting on the Fair Grounds lawn. Second dam Simplify captured the restricted Loudonville S. on the Saratoga dirt in 2009 and placed in six other black-type events. Gunite has a yearling full-sister and produced a filly by Copper Bullet this season before being bred to Tapiture.
HOPEFUL S.-GI, $300,000, Saratoga, 9-6, 2yo, 7f, 1:23.08, gd.
1–GUNITE, 120, c, 2, by Gun Runner
1st Dam: Simple Surprise (SW, $185,446), by Cowboy Cal
2nd Dam: Simplify, by Pulpit
3rd Dam: Classic Olympio, by Olympio
1ST BLACK-TYPE WIN, 1ST GRADED STAKES WIN, 1ST GRADE I
WIN. O/B-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (KY); T-Steven M.
Asmussen; J-Ricardo Santana, Jr. $165,000. Lifetime Record:
5-2-2-1, $293,988. Werk Nick Rating: A+++ *Triple Plus*. Click
for eNicks report & 5-cross catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Wit, 122, c, 2, Practical Joke–Numero d'Oro, by Medaglia
d'Oro. 'TDN Rising Star' ($575,000 Ylg '20 KEESEP). O-Repole
Stable, St. Elias Stable & Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck);
B-Rosilyn Polan (KY); T-Todd A. Pletcher. $60,000.
3–Kevin's Folly, 120, c, 2, Distorted Humor–Santa Vindi, by
Vindication. ($80,000 Ylg '20 KEESEP). O-Michael McLoughlin;
B-Stonehaven Steadings (KY); T-Thomas M. Amoss. $36,000.
Margins: 5 3/4, 3, HF. Odds: 11.60, 0.65, 28.75.
Also Ran: High Oak, Power Agenda, Big Scully, Volcanic, Headline Report, Kitodan, Defend, Street Fight. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by TVG.