SARATOGA SPRINGS — For Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, explaining Echo Zulu’s dominance is fairly cut-and-dry.
“It’s as simple as she’s faster than other horses,” Asmussen said.
Echo Zulu proved that emphatically on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, setting the pace in the Grade I, $500,000 Ballerina just in front of defending champion Goodnight Olive before drawing away impressively under jockey Florent Geroux for a 2 1/2-length victory.
Echo Zulu completed the 7-furlong sprint in one minute, 20.95 seconds.
“Felt like I was in control pretty much all the way through the race,” Geroux said, “and when I asked her turning for home, she gave me this other gear.”
It was the second Grade I win of the day for Asmussen and owners Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC — which co-owns Echo Zulu with L and N Racing LLC. Earlier Saturday, the group captured the Forego with Gunite.
Both stars were sired by 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, and both won by nearly identical margins on Saturday — Gunite won the Forego by 1 3/4 lengths — but Echo Zulu’s winning time was more than a half-second quicker than Gunite’s 1:21.53.
“Poor Gunite’s had to work with her the majority of his life, and we know who he is,” Asmussen said. “If she’s not scared of Gunite, I don’t know who else there’d be out there to worry about.”
The race set up as a showdown between Echo Zulu — sent off as the 3-5 post time favorite — and Goodnight Olive, both of whom entered the Ballerina with perfect records at Saratoga, but after the duo matched each other through early fractions of 22.45, 45.23 and 1:08.72, Echo Zulu proved too much to handle.
“Somebody asked me, ‘How do you see it?’ and I said, ‘Well, I assure you, we have respect for each other,’” Asmussen said. “That’s how it ought to be, and that’s what makes these races so great.”
Goodnight Olive was a clear, if well-beaten second under Irad Ortiz Jr., with Matareya getting up for third by a nose ahead of Caramel Swirl.
“We had a beautiful trip,” Ortiz said. “No excuses. It was a perfect trip, we were just second best.”
Echo Zulu’s dominance came in front of a Travers Day Saratoga crowd that was still somewhat shaken and subdued, with the Ballerina coming barely 40 minutes following the catastrophic injury and euthanization of front-running New York Thunder in sight of the wire in the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens.
The win completed a Saratoga sprint double for the 4-year-old Echo Zulu, who was coming off a 7 1/4-length win exactly a month earlier in the Grade II $200,000 Honorable Miss.
It was Echo Zulu’s ninth win in 11 lifetime starts, and the filly improved to a perfect 4 for 4 over the Saratoga strip. Echo Zulu also won twice at the Spa in 2021, including the Grade I Spinaway, en route to winning the Eclipse Award as the year’s champion 2-year-old filly.
Echo Zulu’s four Saratoga wins have come by a combined 19 1/4 lengths.
“Extremely confident in how she’s been doing,” Asmussen said. “She’s dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, and been unbelievable coming out of her last race and into this race. Just had a tremendous amount of confidence that she would do exactly what she did.”
While the win earned Echo Zulu an automatic ticket in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, Asmussen was noncommittal about the path the filly would take for her immediate future.
“Everything will depend on how we come out of it,” he said. “The timing, what the weather does, there’s so many variables. We’re not running back at Saratoga, and we know that. Then you start figuring everything else.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected]. Follow him on X @Adam_Shinder.