Gun Runner’s presence is looming over the 153rd Saratoga Race Course meet, and not just because it’s Whitney weekend.
The 2017 Horse of the Year’s first crop of foals have been on a tear since the spring, most recently Wicked Halo, who ran away from the field to take the Grade II Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies by 3 1/2 lengths on Sunday.
Steve Asmussen, who trained Gun Runner for owner Winchell Thoroughbreds, has many of these 2-year-olds in his vast stable, including Echo Zulu, who won her career debut by 5 1/2 lengths on opening day.
Wicked Halo has a doubly strong connection for Ron Winchell, since her mare, Just Wicked, is in his breeding shed.
“Ron giving us horses like this make all the accolades possible,” Asmussen said. “Obviously, her mother winning the Adirondack, what a great sire Gun Runner’s proving to be and for her to duplicate what her mother did is very special.”
Just Wicked won the Adirondack at the 2015 meet, but didn’t race past June of her 3-year-old season.
Asmussen said they won’t consider running Wicked Halo back in the Grade I Spinaway at the end of the meet.
“We may take a break,” he said. “I got overly aggressive with her mother, and that’s what being fortunate to have the family continuously is, you need to learn from it.”
Under Jose Ortiz in the Adirondack, Wicked Halo got out of the gate alertly and took the lead from Microbiome and Tyler Gaffalione before the quarter-mile split, which she ripped in 21.55.
Ortiz then got her to the inside, and Wicked Halo edged away in the stretch, as long shot Interstatedaydream won the race for second.
“In these 2-year-old stakes races there’s going to be pace because a lot of them break their maiden wire-to-wire or are just sitting off it,” Ortiz said. “A lot of times, the pace is going to be hot in races like this, and it was hot this time. Tyler broke better than me. I put her up there and she responded well. They were going fast, but she was ready. Steve had her ready to run.”
“The filly outside of her outbroke her a bit, they ride aggressively here and horses either respond or they get beat,” Asmussen said. “She responded. But for a 2-year-old filly and just the way she acted pre-race and everything off hard races, it’s a level of class that’s hard to come by.”
Nine of Gun Runner’s 2-year-olds have won since May 9, two of them are graded stakes winners and Asmussen trains six of them.
“Is that just the craziest?” he said. “And every single one of them that I have I think will be better when they’re older. And they’re awesome right now. It’s crazy. Everything you did with them, they did better. They do their work, they eat and they grow and they get better, and the results are amazing.”
SARATOGA OAKS INVITATIONAL
Con Lima has done little wrong this season, and her trip in the Grade III $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational fit perfectly with that trend, as Flavien Prat got her out of the gate and never looked back to win by three-quarters of a length over Higher Truth.
The eight-horse field attracted three fillies from the United Kingdom to the second leg of the lucrative graded stakes series in New York for 3-year-old turf runners.
Con Lima showed them the way over a mile and three-sixteenths with a game plan that worked the way trainer Todd Pletcher had hoped it would.
“I was analyzing the race beforehand, and we were the only speed, but I wasn’t 100% sure with a couple of the Euros if they would show some initiative,” he said. “I left it in Flavien’s hands, and Plan A was to break well and see if anybody would try to take the lead away from us, and if they didn’t, we’d be happy to have it. It worked out really well.”
“The speed was pretty much me and the Godolphin filly [Creative Flair], and it seems she broke a step slow,” Prat said. “I broke better than her and I ended up on the lead.
“Going to the first turn I felt really comfortable. I was really pleased with the way she was traveling and I felt we were doing some easy fractions. She really kicked on well.”
DE LA ROSE
Also on the card, the Chad Brown-trained Regal Glory closed with a powerful rush to just get up and win by a half-length in the $120,000 De La Rose for fillies and mares on the turf.
“She got a really bad trip in the Just a Game, which was unfortunate because she was really primed to run a big one and she did, it just didn’t work out for her,” Brown said. “But we regrouped. I spoke to Mr. [owner Peter] Brant and said, ‘Let’s get her to Saratoga and let’s put her in a race where she can get a good trip,’ and hopefully put a ‘W’ under her belt with the eye of trying to win a Grade I with her this year, which is why he kept her in training after he bought her. We’ll see what’s next for her, but for now we’ll just enjoy this.”
More from The Daily Gazette: