Gunite Follows Sire Gun Runner’s Lead with Impressive Win at Oaklawn

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt,

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Thursday, February 02, 2023

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Gunite Follows Sire Gun Runner’s Lead with Impressive Win at Oaklawn

Gun Runner began his 2017 Horse of the Year campaign with a runaway victory in an Oaklawn stakes race. Six years later, one of his most prominent first-crop sons, Gunite, began his 2023 campaign with a runaway victory in another Oaklawn stakes race.

Gunite, in a prep for a trip to the Middle East, powered home by four lengths in last Saturday’s $150,000 King Cotton for older sprinters under eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr.

A homebred for Winchell Thoroughbreds (Ron and Joan Winchell) and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Gunite produced the second-fastest 6-furlong time in Oaklawn history for a race in January (1:08.89 over a sloppy track) and the second-fastest King Cotton in 42 runnings at 6 furlongs. Rapid Gray set the stakes record (1:08) in 1984. Future male sprint champion Whitmore ran a January Oaklawn-best 1:08.81 in a 2017 allowance race, which marked his 4-year-old debut.

Gunite was cutting back to a sprint after concluding his 3-year-old campaign with a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland. He was also racing on an off track for the first time since winning the $300,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) for 2-year-olds at 7 furlongs in September 2021 at Saratoga.

“I would have to say he exceeded my expectations, given that he hadn’t run since the first of November, the off track, a distance that he doesn’t usually run,” longtime Winchell racing manager David Fiske said Wednesday afternoon. “It ended up the way that he ran, in (1:08.89), and as fast as he came home, yeah, he kind of exceeded my expectations.”

Gunite, the 3-5 favorite, tracked front-running Gar Hole on the outside from the start and seized command approaching the furlong marker. Gunite sizzled through the stretch, covering his final quarter in :23.36 and final eighth in :11.71 to generate a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 104 and a 116 Equibase speed rating. The Beyer is the second highest of Gunite’s 14-race career, just off the 106 for a 3 3/4-length victory in the $250,000 Perryville Stakes at 7 furlongs Oct. 22 at Keeneland. The career-topping Equibase rating is three points higher than the Perryville, his previous best.

“He came out of the box, trying to win with a Gun Runner early,” Asmussen said, referring to Gunite’s 5-furlong career debut in April 2021 at Churchill Downs. “For him to have gone through all of that, to be who he is now, he trained at the Fair Grounds before he came here better than he had at any other point. I hadn’t had him on a wet track like this. It was good the day that he won the Hopeful, not running through water. But (:11 4/5) his last eighth, that’s good.”

Gunite is scheduled to make his next start in the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) Feb. 25 in Saudi Arabia. The race is 1,200 meters, or just under 6 furlongs. Gunite’s long-range 2023 objective, Fiske said, is a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup.

“Now whether he will run in the Sprint or the Mile again, I don’t know,” Fiske said. “We’ll have to see.”

Gunite has a 7-4-1 record from 14 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,110,509. He is a six-time stakes winner.

Gunite represented Asmussen’s third King Cotton victory in the last four years and fourth overall. It was also Asmussen’s record-extending 98th career Oaklawn stakes victory. The Winchells, in partnership, and Asmussen also campaigned Gun Runner, who captured Oaklawn’s $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) by 5 ¾ lengths in 2017. The 1 1/16-mile Razorback was Gun Runner’s 4-year-old debut. Gun Runner is now among the country's leading stallions.

Rebel Yell

Saturday’s seventh race, a $103,000 entry-level allowance for 3-year-olds at 1 mile, could produce a starter for the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 25. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is Oaklawn’s third of four Kentucky Derby points races.

The allowance has drawn a field of seven, including 7-5 program favorite Gun Pilot, a Nov. 26 career debut winner at Churchill Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen; Protege, who passed the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) last Saturday at Oaklawn following the 11th-hour addition of eventual runaway winner Arabian Knight; and Bourbon Bash, who will be making his 3-year-old debut for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Bourbon Bash was also under consideration for the 1 1/16-mile Southwest, but Lukas opted to run Western Ghent. Bourbon Bash exits a third-place finish in the inaugural $150,000 Renaissance Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 31 at Oaklawn.

“I want to stretch Bourbon Bash out,” Lukas said. “He’s got a devastating kick and he’s bred to run (long), but we’ve mismanaged him in a lot of ways, sprinting and blowing through them.”

From the first crop of 2018 Oaklawn Handicap winner City of Light, Bourbon Bash broke his maiden by eight front-running lengths sprinting last August at Saratoga. In his only two-turn race, Bourbon Bash finished 12th in the $600,000 Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (G1) at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 8 at Keeneland.

Gun Pilot, in his 3-year-old and two-turn debut, finished second to Rebel candidate Verifying in a 1-mile entry-level allowance race Jan. 14 at Oaklawn. Protege, in his two-turn debut, exits a third-place finish behind Hit Show in a 1-mile entry-level allowance Dec. 17 at Oaklawn for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Hit Show was entered in the Southwest, but rerouted to the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles Saturday at Aqueduct. That race has been postponed to Feb. 11 because of winter weather.

Probable post time for Saturday’s seventh race is 3:38 p.m. (Central).

Finish Lines

Caddo River, in his first workout for his new trainer, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, covered a half-mile in :48.20 Tuesday morning at Oaklawn. Lukas said he’s pointing the 2021 Arkansas Derby runner-up to the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18 at Oaklawn. … Arkansas-bred star Gar Hole will be pointed to the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes for state-bred sprinters March 4 at Oaklawn, trainer John Ortiz said. Gar Hole, the 2022 Nodouble winner, finished fourth against open company in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters last Saturday at Oaklawn. … Cogburn, runner-up to Gar Hole’s stablemate, Whelen Springs, in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters last April at Oaklawn, is scheduled to make his 2023 debut in Sunday’s eighth race, a $105,000 third-level allowance sprint for older horses, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.