(Echo Zulu was run-away winner of the G2 Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga this week / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Winchell Thoroughbreds and L and N Racing’s Echo Zulu has won three Grade 1 races and earned an Eclipse Award for 2021 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly. The brilliant daughter of Gun Runner secured another notable accomplishment in Wednesday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap when garnering a 112 Beyer Speed Figure – the fastest number recorded by any horse going six furlongs this year.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who also conditioned her 2017 Horse of the Year and leading third-crop sire, Echo Zulu put away multiple graded stakes winner Frank’s Rockette and led through every point of call en route to a 7 1/4-length score in a swift final time of 1:08.76.

“I’m extremely proud of her race. That obviously was an impressive race and that would put a [big] number on it,” Asmussen said.

Echo Zulu’s Honorable Miss conquest marked a successful return to the Spa for the 4-year-old filly. She won her debut maiden race at Saratoga in July 2021 before returning to capture the Grade 1 Spinaway going seven furlongs. The Championship-earning season concluded with Grade 1 scores in the one-mile Frizette at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar.

The prosperous juvenile campaign warranted Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks aspirations, which propelled Echo Zulu to a victory in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks the following March. She suffered her first loss and lone off-the-board effort when fourth in the Kentucky Oaks.

Echo Zulu entered the Honorable Miss from a win in the six-furlong Grade 3 Winning Colors on May 29 at Churchill Downs, where she stopped the clock in 1:08.99.

“I’m very happy with how she came out of the race yesterday. I’m unbelievably impressed with her and I honestly didn’t expect anything less,” Asmussen said. “We got off track last year chasing the Oaks with a filly that is brilliant to a mile and obviously, we’ll try to get her another Eclipse Award this year. When she goes that fast that easily, it makes you dream of a lot of things.”

While the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina Handicap on August 26 at Saratoga is the likely next target for Echo Zulu, neither Asmussen nor Winchell Thoroughbreds’ racing manager David Fiske ruled out a future start against males.

Asmussen and Winchell also campaign fellow Gun Runner-progeny Gunite, winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful in 2021, who is currently a major force in the male sprint division and will run in Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap.

“It probably has everything to do with how Gunite does in the division with the common ownership,” Asmussen said. “But I’m definitely not scared to run her against anybody. We’ll do whatever is best for the other horses that Winchell and L and N own.”

“She has the highest Beyer at six furlongs of anyone in the country – male or female,” Fiske added. “We’ll have to see what happens as we go along.”

Winchell and Asmussen also campaign three-time graded stakes winning millionaire Wicked Halo, who also is by Gun Runner. The gray 4-year-old filly, who captured the 2021 Grade 2 Adirondack, was a last out winner of Ellis Park’s Twin Bridges on July 23 and could target the Ballerina.

“The plan last week was that if Wicked Halo ran well and Echo Zulu ran well, they would both show up in the Ballerina,” Fiske said. “We’ll try to keep everyone healthy and go on down the path.

“People are speculating that Echo Zulu should go to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and pass the Filly and Mare Sprint,” Fiske added. “We do have Wicked Halo, but I don’t know what we would do with Gunite because he could win the sprint, too.”

Fiske, who said he was left speechless following Echo Zulu’s triumph, stated that Gun Runner’s progeny have hit the ground running and have maintained their form later in their careers.

“When Gun Runner’s first crop came out, people were conjecturing that his foals would be better the older they got, like he was. A bunch of them came out running at two and people thought, ‘Maybe we were wrong.’ But it looks like they weren’t wrong. As good as they are at two, they’re even better at four,” Fiske said.

Asmussen reflected on Gun Runner’s swift ascension to one of the most sought after stallions in North America.

“I don’t know that I can put into words what Gun Runner means for the breed, for a horse to break the records in his first crop,” Asmussen said. “Winning the Hopeful and the Spinaway in his first crop is hard to imagine, but it happened. For them to be going 1:08 and change every time you lead them over at four after they won all the Grade 1s at Saratoga, not only is it a level of ability that is rare to be seen, but it’s a durability that this sport desperately needs.”

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Vergara on verge of graded breakthrough in G2 Glens Falls

Gary Broad’s multiple graded stakes-placed Vergara has placed in three graded events by margins of one length or less, but will hope to turn things in her favor in the Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls, a 1 1/2-mile turf marathon for older fillies and mares on August 3, at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Graham Motion, the daughter of Noble Mission was last seen finishing third in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Eatontown on June 17 at Monmouth Park, defeated three-quarter lengths by Consumer Spending and headed out of place honors by Surprisingly after setting the pace under Jorge Ruiz.

It was the second start of the year for the bay filly, who began her 4-year-old campaign with a prominent fifth, beaten four lengths, in the Grade 3 Gallorette on May 20 at Pimlico Race Course, which saw the victorious Whitebeam exit that race to win the Grade 1 Diana at the Spa.

“All those fillies have come back and run really well, particularly from the Gallorette,” said Motion. “I was proud of her at Monmouth and thought it was a very good effort.”

Though Vergara has yet to visit the winner’s circle for a graded event, she has two stakes victories on her resume, including the 1 1/16-mile Tepin as a juvenile at Aqueduct Racetrack and the 1 5/16-mile Dueling Grounds Oaks in September at Kentucky Downs. Last year, her campaign also included a narrow head defeat to Souper Hoity Toity in the Grade 3 Ontario Colleen at Woodbine and a close third in the one-mile Hilltop at Pimlico. She completed her season with a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont at the Big A one length behind Skims.

Motion said the Glens Falls’ marathon distance is ideal for Vergara.

“I think the distance is important for her, and she kind of showed that last time at Monmouth,” said Motion. “I think for the rest of the year we’ll keep her at the longer distances.”

Motion added last-out Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial-winner Sopran Basilea will join Vergara in the Glens Falls after her game neck triumph in the 1 3/8-mile test on July 1 at Delaware Park.

Motion also provided an update on last year’s Grade 1 Man o’ War winner Highland Chief, who has not raced finishing off-the-board in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Keeneland. Motion said the son of Gleneagles, owned by Mrs. Fitriani Hay, has been recovering from an injury.

“He had a tendon injury, so he’s been off since then,” said Motion. “He’s doing good, but he’s still turned out down in Ocala. I’m not in a rush and I feel like the longer you give them, the best. We’ll probably pick him up when we go back down to Florida.”

In addition to the Man o’ War, Highland Chief also won the Grade 3 Sycamore in October at Keeneland. He has amassed $708,300 through a lifetime record of 16-4-2-2.

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Dean Delivers hoping to supply an upset in G1 A.G. Vanderbilt H.

Stonehedge’s Florida-homebred Dean Delivers, trained by Michael Yates, looks for a victory at the Grade 1 level in Saturday’s $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong sprint over the main track for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course.

Dean Delivers sports a 16-5-7-1 lifetime record, most recently scoring by 2 1/4-lengths in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint going six furlongs on July 1 at Gulfstream Park. The performance garnered a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, building upon a 99 received on May 20 when the chestnut opened up against fellow Florida-breds in Gulfstream’s seven-furlong Big Drama.

“It’s a very good number. He ran a big race. Everything [in his prior starts] had been seven furlongs and a mile,” said Yates. “It was good to get him back to three quarters, where it looks like it’s been his best numbers to date.”

The Vanderbilt will mark the 4-year-old’s Grade 1 debut and also his first start outside of Florida. The race is a step up in class for Dean Delivers, matching up against 2022 Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power and Grade 1-winner Gunite, among others.

“The last stakes he won in Florida gave him bonus money for the Breeders’ Cup and the horse is doing really good, but there’s very few races to choose from going three quarters of a mile,” said Yates. ”So, we decided to go try this level and see if he is competitive with those horses pointing towards the Breeders’ Cup.”

Dean Delivers is by Cajun Breeze, who was trained by Yates and ran in 33 races from 2010 to 2014, winning four. Cajun Breeze ran in the 2012 Smile Sprint, then a Grade 2 race, before shipping to Saratoga and placing second in an allowance race at six furlongs.

“It is very rewarding and it’s been a full-circle deal. A lot of years and a lot of tears,” explained Yates, who seeks his first graded stakes at Saratoga, a task he hints would add to the track’s “Graveyard of Champions” nickname.

Emisael Jaramillo will retain the mount on Dean Delivers, breaking from post six and carrying 120 pounds. Jaramillo has piloted Dean Delivers in his last two starts, winning both outings.

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Rookie Report: Dornoch, full brother to G1 Kentucky Derby winner Mage, set for career debut

West Paces Racing, R.A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding and Two Eights Racing’s Dornoch will make his career debut in Saturday’s seventh race at Saratoga when traveling 6 1/2 furlongs over the main track for trainer Danny Gargan.

Dornoch arrived to Gargan in May but has been especially highly regarded since the first week of May when his older full brother Mage captured the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Since his first recorded workout at the Spa on May 16, a three-furlong move in 38.86 seconds over the Oklahoma training track, Dornoch has trained forwardly with a consistent work pattern.

On Saturday, the son of Good Magic breezed a half-mile from the gate over the main track in 46.46 seconds – the fastest of 119 recorded works at the distance.

“We just want to get him started. He’s going to be a two-turn horse,” Gargan said. “He isn’t the fastest out of the gate, but I think he’s a very talented horse. I want to get this race in him and then stretch him out. He’s a big, big horse. He’ll break a little slow and hopefully we’ll sit fifth or sixth. If he breaks, he’ll run big.”

Dornoch, bred in Kentucky by Grandview Equine, is out of the graded stakes-placed Big Brown mare Puca and was bought for $325,000 by Oracle Bloodstock. He was broken by Martha And Raul Reyes’ King’s Equine in Ocala, Florida, where he displayed early glimpses of potential.

“I thought he was the best horse I bought at the sale last year,” Gargan said. “I originally bought him for myself and then I sold my part to Randy Hill. All winter they’ve liked him at King’s Equine, and since he came here, he’s worked well.”

Dornoch has been tabbed the 2-1 morning-line favorite by NYRA oddsmaker David Aragona, and will leave from post 4 under Luis Saez.

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Saturday’s Cross Country Pick 5 to feature graded-stakes from Monmouth Park and Saratoga Race Course

The New York Racing Association Inc. (NYRA) will host a Cross Country Pick 5 on Saturday featuring graded stakes action from Monmouth Park and Saratoga Race Course.

The Cross Country Pick 5 requires bettors to pick the winner of five select races from tracks across the country. The minimum bet for the multi-track, multi-race wager is 50 cents. Wagering on the Cross Country Pick 5 is available on ADW platforms and at simulcast facilities across the country with each week featuring a mandatory payout of the net pool. The Cross Country Pick 5, boasting a low 15 percent takeout, offers sequences with races from Saratoga Race Course and partner tracks across the country.

Free Equibase past performances for the Cross Country Pick 5 sequence will be available for download at https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/cross-country-wagers.

Cross Country Pick 5 – Saturday, July 29

Leg A: Monmouth Park – Race 8, $100K Colleen (3:51 p.m. Eastern)

Leg B: Monmouth Park – Race 9, G3 Monmouth Oaks (4:20 p.m.)

Leg C: Saratoga Race Course – Race 8, G1 A. G. Vanderbilt H. (4:26 p.m.)

Leg D: Saratoga Race Course – Race 9, Allowance (5:02 p.m.)

Leg E: Saratoga Race Course – Race 10, G2 Jim Dandy (5:45 p.m.)

Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.