By Jennie Rees, KY HBPA (Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders’ Cup photo of Echo Zulu winning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies)
DEL MAR, Calif. (Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021) — The Breeders’ Cup World Championships have been staged twice at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Four years ago, Horse of the Year Gun Runner captured the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at the seaside track for co-owner Ron Winchell and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
On Friday, unbeaten Echo Zulu — from the first crop sired by $15.98 million-earner Gun Runner — capped an unbeaten 2-year-old season with a 5 1/4-length victory in the $2 million, Grade 1 NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She also is trained by Asmussen and co-owned by Winchell, this time in partnership with the L and N Racing stable of prominent Tulsa attorney Lee Levinson. Winchell also is the co-owner and co-managing partner of Kentucky Downs racetrack in Franklin, Ky.
“It’s as simple as she’s faster than they are,” Asmussen said Saturday morning. “I think that’s what she’s been all year and she continues to be. Just extremely satisfying when you look at four races and three Grade 1s and the style in which she’s done it.
“We obviously watched the replay and relived it with family and friends last night. She went under the wire happy. Another mile later, she looked just as happy. It was beautiful.…. You got a little separation at the three-eighths pole, and she still looks as comfortable. And it looked like (her rivals) needed to work to stay with her. I think that was the separation that Gun Runner developed into. Where you’d see early in a race they were doing enough, but somewhere in the middle, he was doing it easier than they were and then you’d see the separation.”
While Gun Runner started off very good and became great en route to a championship season at 4, Echo Zulu started on top and stayed there – much like her running style. The filly blitzed through to win her Saratoga debut by 5 1/2 lengths, the Grade 1 Spinaway by four and Belmont’s Frizette by 7 1/4 before heading west. Asmussen said Echo Zulu will spend the winter with division at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans with the prime target being the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Gun Runner stands at Three Chimneys Farm, which campaigned him with Winchell. Echo Zulu was a $300,000 Keeneland yearling purchase. Her dam, Letgomyecho, also produced Echo Town, winner of last year’s Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga for L and N Racing right before the Keeneland auction.
“It’s something you always dream about when you have a horse like Gun Runner, and in his first crop getting what will be a champion 2-year-old filly,” Winchell said. “So for us to actually own it and what we did with Gun Runner just makes it that much more special. I guess if I would have bred her it would be even better, but we’ll settle for what we got right here.”
Said Levinson: “I can’t even believe it and I told Steve earlier, ‘If something happens to me, I appreciate what you did for me because I’m still in shock.’ And I’m an attorney. I speak for a living, and I can’t talk.’”
Already this year, Asmussen has become North America’s winningest trainer in history. Heading into Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card, his $27.57 million in purses and 404 victories are tops so far in 2021. He has captured 10 Grade 1 races with eight different horses.
Kentucky fillies populate Juvenile Fillies
Kentucky should have a bumper crop of 3-year-old fillies pointing to the Kentucky Oaks in the spring. That includes the Brad Cox-trained runner-up JuJu’s Map (winner of Keeneland’s Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades) and third-place Tarabi, trained by Cherie DeVaux. Hidden Connection (impressive winner of Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Pocahontas in her second start for trainer Bret Calhoun), was fourth, with the Dallas Stewart-trained Alcibiades third-place finisher Sequist fifth in the field of six.
“Obviously Echo Zulu is the real deal,” said Jason Loutsch, co-owner and racing manager for Albaugh Family Stables, which campaigns JuJu’s Map. “She’s a phenomenal filly and she ran huge. We didn’t know if she could get two turns, and she proved she’s the champion. I thought our filly broke just a tick slow. We’d have liked to have been a little closer to her. But she got out there on the lead and we weren’t going to be able to catch her today. I’m never going to be upset finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. We were close. Some day we’re going to win this, but it wasn’t our day. We’re really proud of JuJu and Brad Cox’s team.”
Both Juju’s Map and Spinaway runner-up Tarabi came out of Ellis Park’s 2-year-old program.
“I’m really proud of her,” DeVaux said of Tarabi. “She came off a layoff and did something she hadn’t done with the distance and two turns. She ran great just to get beat at the wire (for second). She’s exciting, for sure.”
Juvenile Turf a bombshell, all right
The effort of Tiz the Bomb in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) sparked mixed emotions for trainer Kenny McPeek, seeking his first Breeders’ Cup victory. McPeek now is 0 for 37, with seven runners-up and 10 third-place finishes.
But how do you categorize this result? After all, horseplayers fancying Tiz the Bomb got a $17.60 mutuel. That’s because first-place finisher Modern Games was scratched by the stewards in what officials acknowledged was a premature decision when a least one regulatory veterinarian incorrectly thought the colt had broken through the gate after his stablemate flipped and got stuck under the gate. The stewards then allowed Modern Games to run for purse money only. So the win payoffs were to Tiz the Bomb.
“Who can make this up? I’m a winner and second,” McPeek tweeted after the race. “Unreal turn of events. Won but lost. Lost but won. Only could happen to me.”
(In a further update issued jointly by the California Horse Racing Board and the Breeders’ Cup, officials said for the first time that the Del Mar mutuels department, in another communications snafu, had reinstated Modern Games for four minutes back into the mutuel pools before the stewards said he’d run for purse money only.)
McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez were resigned to the weird outcome but pleased with Tiz the Bomb’s effort.
“I ended up a little farther back than I thought I was going to be,” Hernandez said. “From that point, we just had to work out a good trip…. Turning for home, he made a big closing run. We were shortening up back to a mile today. He ran big to run second. He’s a nice horse. He keeps stepping up.”
McPeek said going in that Tiz the Bomb will be pointed in 2022 for the Kentucky Derby, and he saw nothing to change his opinion.
“We’ll regroup and find a dirt race for home,” he said. “We’ll give him a little break, but he’s a really sturdy colt. He’s going to have a good 3-year-old season. He’s smart and worked his way through traffic. Was he the best horse? Who knows? But he ran well.”
Juvenile: Romans looking to Derby trail with Giant Game
We saw why Dale Romans wanted to take a chance with Albaugh Family Stables and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Giant Game, who came into the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) off a a three-length Keeneland maiden victory. Giant Game loomed boldly on the turn before settling for third, 3 1/4 lengths behind victorious front-runner Corniche and 1 1/2 lengths behind Pappacap.
“I think it’s going to be a fun spring,” Romans said. “I was real happy with him. Around the turn, I thought we were going to get it all. Congratulations to the winner. It was a big race by him. It’s hard to beat Bob (Baffert) on his home court. I’m very proud of my horse, and I think we are legitimately on the Derby trail here.”
Agreed jockey Joe Talamo: “I had a lot of horse coming around the turn. He put me in a really great spot. He has a very bright future, this being only his third career start.”
Twilight Gleaming gives Ward third-straight Juvenile Turf Sprint
Of course Keeneland-based Wesley Ward won the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint! He has for three years in a row now, with the Grade 2 stakes being only four years old. This time it was with Twilight Gleaming, the latest of the Ward-trained 2-year-olds to start out at Keeneland in April and go to Royal Ascot, resulting in a second in the Group 2 Queen Mary’s 21-horse field. That was followed by victory in a small stakes in France.
His secret? “Fast horses,” said Ward, who also trains third-place Kaufymaker and fifth-place Averly Jane. “Really, essentially, that’s all it is, and we’re getting stronger.”
Kaufymaker had finished second behind Averly Jane in Keeneland’s Indian Summer after taking third in a Kentucky Downs allowance race. Averly Jane, bred by the University of Kentucky, was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths for everything.
No fairytale ending for California Angel
The Cinderella story of $5,500 purchase California Angel struck midnight – at least for this race – with an 11th-place finish in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf. California Angel won a Kentucky Downs maiden race at 28-1 odds in her debut and captured Keeneland’s Grade 2 Jessamine at 17-1 in trainer George Leonard’s first graded-stakes appearance. But in the Breeders’ Cup, the daughter of 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome tossed her head at the break, raced wide throughout and failed to launch her trademark kick under regular rider Rafael Bejarano.
The Chad Brown-trained Keeneland maiden winner Haughty came in third in the Juvenile Fillies Turf won by Bobby Flay’s Pizza Bianca by a half-length over France’s Malavath. Haughty, ridden by Churchill Downs’ leading rider Tyler Gaffalione, lost by a total of three-quarters of a length.
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