Echo Zulu builds on stellar debut with gate-to-wire G1 Spinaway score
by Brian Bohl
Winchell Thoroughbreds and L and N Racing’s Echo Zulu put the juvenile filly division on notice with a 5 1/2-length debut win on July 15 at Saratoga Race Course. The Gun Runner filly again showed her ability at the Spa, going gate-to-wire to win the seven-furlong Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies by four lengths on Sunday.
Echo Zulu earned a divisional-high 92 Beyer Speed Figure first out for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. She threatened to exceed that mark with a dominating stakes debut, as jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. notched his fourth Grade 1 victory of the 40-day Saratoga meet that concludes on Labor Day Monday.
Breaking from post 3, Echo Zulu, off a step slow, surged to the front when the gates opened for the 130th Spinaway edition, leading the nine-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 22.07 seconds and the half in 44.73 over a track labeled good and harrowed with Benbang tracking in second position.
Out of the turn, Santana, Jr. kept Echo Zulu to the inside, where she faced no serious challenge in the stretch drive, powering home a winner in a final time of 1:22.51 as Tarabi, who stumbled at the start, rallied for second.
“It was a huge jump. We prepared her like a first-time starter at Saratoga to run,” said Asmussen, who also has four Grade 1 wins this meet. “She responded and ran well and that was a long time ago going five and a half against different horses. To jump from maidens to a Grade 1 off one run in a race with everything going your way is not easy. It takes a special horse to do it and maybe that’s what she is.
“She is all class and training her she’ll go as easy as you want her to go and picks it up when asked,” he added. “She’s not been in a hurry for a filly that’s as fast as she is.”
Santana, Jr. and Asmussen teamed for a second Grade 1 win in as many days following Max Player’s victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup that earned him a berth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Del Mar. Three of Santana, Jr.’s Grade 1 wins this meet have come on Asmussen-trained horses, with Yaupon winning the Forego on Runhappy Travers Day August 28. Santana, Jr. was also aboard Maracuja in the Coaching Club American Oaks in July.
"I had so much confidence that I only wore two goggles for seven furlongs,” Santana, Jr. said. “She was working real nice and today she improved a lot. I had plenty in the tank. I never hit her. She was running on strong.”
Off as the 3-5 favorite, Echo Zulu returned $3.30 on a $2 win bet. She improved her career earnings to $220,000 and also 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.
“Ricardo said after he came back, ‘I thought they let us get away with going a little slow but then I looked back and saw the times. She’s just very fast, very easy,’” he added.
Asmussen said Echo Zulu could potentially be a force when stretching out, which could come in the Grade 1, $400,000 Frizette going a one-turn mile on October 3 at Belmont Park in a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
“That looked like it would translate to the Frizette pretty good to me and that would hopefully be the bridge [to the Breeders’ Cup]. To suggest what she can’t do right now would probably be a mistake,” said Asmussen, who won his third Spinaway after saddling Hot Dixie Chick  and Cashier’s Dream .
Tarabi, a debut winner on August 7 at Ellis Park for trainer Cherie DeVaux, finished 3 3/4 lengths clear of Saucy Lady T for second under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano in her stakes debut.
“She ran great. I’m really pleased with her effort,” DeVaux said. “Stepping up into Grade 1 company off a win at Ellis Park is a tall ask and she was just so professional and handled everything well. She stumbled and Javier didn’t panic and she just picked it back up and got herself collected and into the race.
“I’m not sure how far she wants to go and Javier had the same impression. A mile might be too far for her – six or seven is where she’s likely going to be most effective,” she added.
Saucy Lady T, trained by James Chapman and ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., has finished third in each of her three graded stakes appearance at the meet following black type-efforts in the Grade 3 Schuylerville on July 15 and the Grade 2 Adirondack on Whitney Day August 8.
Sequist, Dream Lith, Benbang, Sue Ellen Mishkin and Girl With a Dream completed the order of finish. Meet-leading rider Luis Saez eased Pretty Birdie, the last-out winner of the Grade 3 Schuylerville, to the wire, where she walked home.
The Saratoga meet will conclude with a 12-race card on Labor Day Monday with a 12:35 p.m. Eastern first post. The Grade 2, $200,000 Bernard Baruch for 3-year-olds and up competing at 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon turf is slated for Race 3, while the final stakes of the meet will be the Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful for 2-year-olds going seven furlongs in Race 10.