Five Takeaways You Need to Know from Action-Packed Holiday Weekend at Saratoga

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, above center smiling, enjoyed an unforgettable summer meet at Saratoga Race Course, where he became the all-time winningest trainer in Thoroughbred racing history and won several of the most important races of the meet (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup card on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course as well as other major developments this Labor Day weekend:

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DREAM MEET: No trainer in the rich history of Saratoga Race Course has ever accomplished more at its summer meet than Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen did. On Aug. 7, he completed a decades-long chase when first-time starter Stellar Tap won the fifth race at the Spa, allowing him to surpass Dale Baird with the 9,446th triumph of his career. In a sense, Asmussen was just getting started. He closed the meet with five Grade 1 wins, including one on each of the last three days with Max Player in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Echo Zulu in the Spinaway Stakes and longshot Gunite in the Hopeful Stakes. “It’s special. Saratoga is one of the best tracks in North America,” Asmussen said. “I’m really blessed. Five Grade 1 wins in one meet is unreal.” A tip of the cap as well to Chad Brown, who topped the trainer standings, and to leading jockey Luis Saez.

MAXIMIZING TALENT: Max Player, making his sixth start since he came under Asmussen’s care, showed he has developed into a force to be reckoned with when he controlled the Jockey Club Gold Cup by four lengths on Saturday to secure a fees-paid berth in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 4-year-old Honor Code colt has won consecutive starts since snapping a six-race losing streak. He still had much to prove after taking the July 3 Suburban Stakes by a neck against Mystic Guide on a sloppy track at Belmont Park. The Jockey Club Gold Cup, run at Saratoga for the first time, proved the Suburban was no fluke. “This is who he is. I thought it was a dominating win,” Asmussen said of the Gold Cup, adding, “He’s made a beautiful older horse, getting strong and running his best races at the right time.”

COMING ON: Gunite did not break his maiden until the third try for Winchell Thoroughbreds, but the 2-year-old son of Gun Runner is rolling now. He stunned heavily-favored Wit by 5 ¾ lengths in the $300,000 Hopeful Stakes on Monday, showing he has to be viewed as a prime contender for the $2 million TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Del Mar. Gunite launched his career on April 29 and finished third and then second in his first two starts, both at five furlongs. He broke through at six furlongs on June 26 at Churchill Downs. “The distance, it was a bit too short,” Asmussen said of Gunite’s inauspicious beginning. “But we were anxious to get the Gun Runners running. He’s from a solid sprint family of the Winchells, with Gun Runner giving him some endurance. But he’s very durable mentally and physically. As much pressure as we put on him, he accepted it.” It helped that Wit was compromised when he stumbled at the start of the Hopeful.

POTENTIAL SUPERSTAR: There is no telling how high is high for Echo Zulu, who has breezed through her first two starts by a combined 9 ½ lengths. She showed she was no one-hit wonder when she added a four-length decision in Sunday’s Spinaway Stakes to a 5 ½-length stroll in her July 15 debut at the beloved upstate New York track. “To jump from maidens to a Grade 1 off one run in a race with everything going your way is not easy,” Asmussen said. “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. She’s not been in a hurry for a filly that is as fast as she is.” Her probable next start will come in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes, going a one-turn mile on Oct. 3 at Belmont Park.

STREAKING: War Like Goddess rattled off her fourth consecutive victory and sixth in seven lifetime starts as she easily passed her first Grade 1 test in besting Great Island by 2 ¼ lengths in the $600,000 Flower Bowl Stakes on Saturday. The race offered a fees-paid berth for the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, where the 4-year-old daughter of English Channel looks formidable. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott eagerly awaits the opportunity to take on some of the world’s best at the Breeders’ Cup. “It’s an ideal circumstance, I guess,” he said. “We have plenty of foundation in her and she should be ready to go.” Mott said he will “probably” train War Like Goddess up to the season-culminating championships but cautioned, “I’ve called audibles before.”

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