Saratoga Track Highlights for Sept. 8
Saratoga’s 40-day summer season came to a close on Labor Day. For the first time in its history, the meet generated an all-sources wagering handle of more than $800 million. Closing weekend featured a pair of Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” challenge races, and two Grade 1 opportunities for two-year-olds. Here’s a look back at the final weekend at the Spa.
War Like Goddess secures sixth win in seven career starts and berth in Filly & Mare Turf (G1)
Two races that were previously run at Belmont—the Flower Bowl S. (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1)—were contested at Saratoga for the first time. The Flower Bowl granted a berth to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), and the Jockey Club Gold Cup sends a runner to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).
War Like Goddess secured her sixth win in seven career starts in the Flower Bowl. The four-year-old daughter of English Channel posted a 2 1/4-length victory under regular rider Julien Leparoux for trainer Bill Mott. She was purchased for $30,000, and the Flower Bowl was her fourth consecutive graded stakes win.
Max Player double-qualifies for Classic (G1)
Max Player won Jockey Club Gold Cup by four lengths. The dark bay colt had already secured a free spot in the Classic by winning the Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park in his previous start. Ricardo Santana Jr. was in the irons for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Max Player, who was stabled at Saratoga and breezed three times at the Spa, has displayed a turnaround in form after recording unplaced efforts in the Saudi Cup (G1) in February and the Pimlico Special (G3) in May.
“He likes to be where he's going to run,” Asmussen said. “Physically, he looks great. He's matured wonderfully. He's made a beautiful older horse, getting strong and running his best races at the right time.”
With the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Classic now the ultimate goal, Asmussen said Max Player would likely travel to Del Mar early to get acclimated to the new surface.
Echo Zulu scores easy win in Spinaway
Favorite Echo Zulu took the Spinaway S. (G1) by four lengths in a gate-to-wire score. In her previous start, she won her debut by 5 1/2 lengths. Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. was in the irons for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and owners L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds.
"I had so much confidence that I only wore two goggles for seven furlongs,” Santana said. “She was working real nice, and today she improved a lot. I had plenty in the tank. She was running on strong.”
Echo Zulu became the first Grade 1 winner by Gun Runner, who was the 2017 Horse of the Year under Asmussen’s conditioning.
“I can’t measure how much I wanted to have Gun Runner’s first Grade 1 winner,” Asmussen said. “Everything he done for the barn, he’s obviously a tremendous sire and somebody had to be first, but I’m glad it was us.”
Asmussen said Echo Zulu could stretch out in the mile Frizette S. (G1) at Belmont Park, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Asmussen, Santana, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Gun Runner progeny sweep Grade 1 two-year-old stakes
On Sunday, Gunite, another a son of Gun Runner, won the Hopeful S. (G1) at 11-1 odds for Asmussen, Santana, and Winchell Thoroughbreds. Wit was bet down as an odds-on favorite following an eight-length win in the Sanford Stakes (G3), and High Oak, who beat Gunite in the Saratoga Special S. (G2), was the second choice. Gunite bumped with a rival at the start, but quickly rushed to contention and drew away to win by 5 3/4 lengths.
Gunite gave Asmussen and Santana their respective fifth Grade 1 wins of the 40-day Spa summer meet. They teamed up for four of these victories.
Asmussen said Gunite will now target the $500,000 Champagne (G1) at a mile on October 2 at Belmont Park, which offers a "Win and You're In" berth to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"I love him for more two-year-old races this year,” Asmussen said. “We know what we want his next two races to be, and we feel really good about them," the trainer said. "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."
Saez and Brown secure Saratoga titles
Luis Saez earned his first riding title at Saratoga, tallying 64 wins and earning a meet-high $6,233,519 in purses. Irad Ortiz Jr. finished second in both categories, with 56 wins and $6,144,673 in earnings.
Chad Brown outpaced all trainers to win his fourth Saratoga title with 41 wins and $4,525,222 in earnings. He was the leading conditioner in 2016 and 2018-19. Todd Pletcher, last year's leading trainer, finished second with 28 wins and almost $3.7 in earnings.
New York racing returns to Belmont Park on Thursday, Sept. 16. The fall meet will run through Sunday, Oct. 31, and will include five Grade 1 races and five “Win and You’re In” qualifiers to the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.