(Gunite goes off in the G1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)
From the NYRA Media Team:
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Kentucky homebred Gunite, nailed at the wire by the reigning Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power last month, reversed the outcome Saturday at Saratoga Race Course by holding off his fellow millionaire the length of the stretch to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego by 1 3/4 lengths.
The 44th running of the seven-furlong Forego for older horses was the first of five Grade 1 stakes worth $3.5 million in purses on a spectacular 13-race program highlighted by the 154th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers for 3-year-olds.
In earning his second career Grade 1 victory following last summer’s Hopeful, also at Saratoga, Gunite handed Elite Power his first loss in nine races dating to a May 2022 maiden special weight at Churchill Downs.
It marked the first Forego victory for jockey Tyler Gaffalione and the third for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who previously won with Yaupon in 2021 and Champion Mitole in 2019.
“Gunite is just a very special horse to race at the level he has for as long as he has and do it consistently,” Asmussen said. “It was a very tough defeat for him in the Vanderbilt and for him to not blink an eye, come back and lay it down again today just proves what a special horse he actually is.”
Breaking side-by-side in a field of five, Gunite was hustled to the front by Gaffalione and ran the opening quarter-mile in 23.16 seconds tracked by Pipeline while Irad Ortiz, Jr. settled Elite Power in third saving ground inside with Synthesis on his right flank and High Oak, Elite Power’s Hall of Famer Bill Mott-trained stablemate, trailing behind.
“He broke alertly, put himself in a good spot,” Gaffalione said. “The difference between today and last time was, going the three quarters, you’ve got to use him a little more than you’d like to. Seven-eighths suits him a little bit better. He’s a big colt, just let him get into his stride and let him do his thing.”
Gunite was relaxed through a half-mile in 46.20, still given closest chase by Pipeline, with Elite Power continuing to hug the rail poised to strike. As Pipeline began to drop back on the far turn, Ortiz, Jr. gave Elite Power his cue and had plenty of room approaching the stretch to cut the corner and set his sights on the leader, after six furlongs went in 1:09.67.
With Elite Power – carrying a field-high 124 pounds – gaining to his inside, Gaffalione asked Gunite for another gear and the 4-year-old Gun Runner colt responded to separate from his rival in the final sixteenth of a mile, crossing the wire in 1:21.53 over a fast main track. Sent off as the second choice at odds of 6-5, Gunite returned $4.60 on a $2 win bet.
“I slapped him on the shoulder, threw him his head, and he exploded. Especially after he switched leads late, he found another gear,” Gaffalione said. “I think [last time] I used him a little too much early on and I wanted to get a little bit of separation coming into the stretch last time, might’ve cost us a bit. He definitely made up for it today. He’s such a tremendous horse.”
High Oak, with jockey Katie Davis up, closed the gap to be third, four lengths behind Elite Power. Pipeline and Synthesis completed the order of finish.
Gunite nearly went all the way to play spoiler in his last meeting with Elite Power, the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap July 29 at Saratoga, but came up a head short. He now owns three wins and three seconds in six career tries at the Spa, his other victory coming in last summer’s Grade 2 Amsterdam.
“Very redeeming,” owner Ron Winchell said. “Obviously, we came up a little short in the last one after having the lead, so this was definitely redeeming from the last race. I think he’s getting better over time. With the Gun Runners, like you see with Echo Zulu also, their last few races just seem to be getting better and better as they get older.”
Favored at 3-5 in the Forego, Elite Power had put together a string of eight consecutive victories including the Grade 2 Vosburgh at Belmont Park and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland to cap his championship season. He began this year with a triumph in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia followed by the Grade 2 True North June 10 at Belmont, his Vanderbilt prep.
Mott was attempting to win his second straight Forego, having captured the 2022 edition with Cody’s Wish.
“Maybe I’ve seen him [Elite Power] run a little better before, but I can’t give any big excuse,” Mott said. “We gave the winner six pounds. I don’t know if that’s enough to use as an excuse.”
Mott said it was unlikely that Elite Power would have another race before the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint November 4, but Asmussen hinted he would give Gunite a prep before they meet again at Santa Anita.
“He likes racing,” Asmussen said. “He’s never been a flashy trainer. I believe he’ll need another race.”
Live racing resumes Sunday with an 11-race New York Showcase Day program devoted to horses bred in the Empire State featuring six stakes worth $1.25 million in purses highlighted by the $250,000 Albany, a nine-furlong test for 3-year-olds, in Race 10. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present live coverage and analysis of the Saratoga Race Course summer meet on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule/.