Steve Asmussen became the all-time leader in wins by a trainer last week and on Saturday looks for a record sixth win in the $200,000 Saratoga Special (G2).
Asmussen’s five wins in the race is only topped by James G. Rowe, who has won the Saratoga Special a record six times, the last coming in 1929. Asmussen will send out a pair of runners in this year’s edition, the 116th running of the historic race for juveniles.
Asmussen sends out Gunite (5-1) a son of Gun Runner who is coming off a maiden victory at Churchill Downs on June 26 in his third career outing. He also will saddle Red Run (30-1) who was the beaten favorite in the Bashford Manor (G3) last out in a fifth-place finish. The colt is also sired by Gun Runner, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner who won both the Whitney (G1) and Woodward (G1) over the Spa main track.
The Hall of Fame trainer likes Gunite getting some extra ground. “The distance had everything to do with it,” Asmussen said. “Going from five-eighths, five-and-a-half, three-quarters and go third, second and first. That’s how it felt to us.”
Wesley Ward will saddle Nakatomi (8-1), who is looking to bounce back off an eighth place finish in the Norfolk Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot where the gelding got off to a tardy start.
Nakatomi Runs Eighth in Norfolk Stakes
Doctor Jeff is the 2-1 morning line favorite for trainer Rudy Rodriguez. The colt broke his maiden in an off the turf race at Belmont Park on July 10.
“I’m just very happy with the way he’s training over here,” Rodriguez said. “He beat some tough horses the first time and he did it the right way. We just take it day-by-day, but he’s been training over here for a while. If he doesn’t like the track now, he’s never going to like it.”
Saturday’s card at Saratoga also features the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1), a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). The Chad Brown trained Raging Bull is the 9-5 morning line favorite.
Let’s head out to Saratoga for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Saratoga Race 9 The Saratoga Special G2 (5:39 ET)
#2 Gunite 5-1
#1 Nakatomi 8-1
#8 Doctor Jeff 2-1
#7 Double Thunder 6-1
#10 Glacial 15-1
This colt is one of two in here sent out by the Asmussen barn that has won this race five times including last year’s with Jackie’s Warrior. The colt took three tries to break his maiden, third in his debut at 9-5, a second at 3-2 second out and getting the job done last out at even money at Churchill Downs. The colt dueled for the early lead, got clear and held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The fourth-place finisher Play Action Pass came back to graduate in his next start at Ellis Park. The colt has shown solid improvement in each outing and now adds blinkers for his local debut. The colt owns solid early and mid pace numbers and another move forward makes him tough in this spot. The colt is by Gun Runner out of the stakes winner Simple Surprise ($185,446).
The Ward trainee was off poorly last out at Royal Ascot in the Norfolk Stakes (G2) and was not much of a threat in an eighth-place finish in a 15-horse field, The gelding broke his maiden in the slop at Keeneland going 4 1/2 furlongs in his debut. The runner up in that race was her stablemate Happy Soul who came back to graduate in her next start by 11 3/4 lengths and then won the Astoria by 11 1/2 lengths. He has one local drill since shipping in from Keeneland for Ward who is hitting at a 37% clip overall in two-year-old races in 2021. The trainer is 29% winners moving runners from turf to dirt. The rail draw is not ideal but the 8-1 morning line looks fair enough.
The morning line favorite took the field gate to wire to break his maiden in his debut for the RRod barn in a race that was taken off the turf. The colt was bumped coming out of the gate, recovered and showed good early zip setting solid fractions and won with plenty left in the tank left. He only had to beat four foes, none of which have come back to run yet. He is a half to multiple stakes winner Flattering Bea ($441,082) and G2 placed Queen of Beas ($180,850). The main knock is his price, the 2-1 morning line seems on the light side.
WIN: Gunite to win at 4-1 or better.
EXACTA: 2 / 1,7,8,10 and 1,2 / 1,2,8