SARATOGA SPRINGS — You can forgive trainer Steve Asmussen for miscounting the number of Gun Runner progeny he had entered on a big day like Travers Day.
The leading sire of 2-year-olds in 2021 and of 3-year-olds in 2022 in North America is just that prolific of a stallion.
Gunite, a 4-year-old son of the 2017 Horse of the Year set the early pace and then held off champion male sprinter Elite Power to win the Grade I Forego at Saratoga Race Course.
By now, the connections of many of these good horses have become familiar: besides Asmussen as trainer, owner Ron Winchell, who campaigned Gun Runner, has many of his babies in his stable.
And they’re particularly successful at Saratoga.
Gunite got through the first quarter-mile in 23.16 and the half in 46.20, then beat Elite Power by 1 3/4 lengths on the same track where he won the Grade I Hopeful as a 2-year-old and the Grade II Amsterdam last year.
The Forego reversed the result of the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 29, when Elite Power, the 2022 Eclipse Award-winning male sprinter, beat Gunite by a head.
This time, with Gunite carrying six fewer pounds than Elite Power, jockey Tyler Gaffalione coaxed relative comfortable early fractions out of his mount and asked him to pick it up at the quarter pole. Elite Power, ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., chased Gunite all the way to the wire and couldn’t gather enough momentum to catch him.
“Gunite’s just a very special horse, to race at the level he has for as long as he has consistently,” Asmussen said. “Very tough defeat in the Vanderbilt, and for him to come back and not blink an eye and lay it down again today just proves what a special horse he actually is.
“The horse gives us a tremendous amount of confidence. Tough beat in the Vanderbilt, and all he wants the next day was another chance at him.”
“I think I used him a little too much early on [in the Vanderbilt], and I wanted to get a little bit of separation coming into the stretch, and it might’ve cost us,” Gaffalione said. “He definitely made up for it today.
“You try to just ride your own horse, but in these kind of races against this group of quality, you’ve got to pay attention to who you’re running against.”
Gun Runner, who stands at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky, has produced the likes of 2022 Preakness winner Early Voting and 2022 Arkansas Derby and Haskell winner Cyberknife.
As a racehorse, Gun Runner won 12 of 19 starts for almost $16 million in purse earnings. The last five starts of his career included victories in the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the 2018 Pegasus World Cup.
“Oh, my gosh. It’s amazing what Gun Runner is as a sire, and it brings back his summer here winning the Woodward and the Whitney, just magnificent,” Asmussen said. “And for us to be so blessed to get to have multiple [progeny], we have three in three Grade I’s today and all three of them are Gun Runners. And it’s so hard to compete at this level.”
Actually, besides Gunite, Gun Runner was represented by Echo Zulu and Wicked Halo in the Ballerina and Disarm in the Travers, all trained by Asmussen and owned in full or part by Winchell.
Besides the weight shift from the Vanderbilt, was running at his preferred distance in the Forego, seven furlongs. He improved to 5-2-0 from seven starts in the distance.
“Maybe I’ve seen him run a little better before, but I can’t give any big excuse,” trainer Bill Mott said of Elite Power. “We gave the winner six pounds, I don’t know if that’s enough to use as an excuse.”
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on X @Mike_MacAdam.