Zipse: Asmussen's Gunite and Pauline's Pearl return in style

Zipse: Asmussen's Gunite and Pauline's Pearl return in style
Photo: Tommy Land / Eclipse Sportswire

Saturday was a racing day dominated by Art Collector and his big win in the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup. Still, I could not help but take notice of a classy pair of returning Steve Asmussen trainees who also scored impressive victories. Gunite and Pauline’s Pearl each looked like potential champions on Saturday.

Some horses just grow on you, and for me, Gunite is such a horse. I’ll admit that despite an easy Grade 1 victory in the 2021 Hopeful Stakes, I was far from sold on the juvenile son of Gun Runner.

Back then he seemed an inconsistent sort, and his fade out of the picture against Jack Christopher in the Champagne Stakes (G1) left me wanting. I have since turned 180 degrees on the one-turn specialist.

In his first career race at Oaklawn Park and his first race anywhere since being steadied in the stretch and running a game fourth in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 5 at Keeneland, Gunite raised his career record to seven wins in 14 career starts with a powerful performance in the King Cotton Stakes.

Much like his great sire, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred continues to get better with maturity. He certainly looked like a full-grown man toying with boys Saturday on a sloppy racing surface in Arkansas.

Under confident handling from rider Ricardo Santana Jr., Gunite chased the speedy Gar Hole through solid early fractions, collared him at will when asked, and ambled home an easy winner in a sharp final time of 1:08.89 for the six furlongs.

At distances from six furlongs to a mile, he has proven to be a horse of class and consistency. Having completely turned on my feelings on Gunite, I now see it as no stretch at all to believe the six-time stakes winner has a real shot to be the best sprinter in the land in 2023.

Gunite came off a 12-week layoff for his Hall of Fame trainer, but the older mare Pauline’s Pearl had a much longer break. It will also likely be a tougher task to prove to be the best in her division this year for the well-bred daughter of Tapit, but after Saturday’s return, she is in the race.

A Stonestreet Stables homebred, Pauline’s Pearl was making her first start in nearly seven months Saturday in defense of her crown of the Houston Ladies Classic (G3). A two-time graded stakes winner at both 3 and 4, it was good to see her back.

Beginning her 5-year-old season just as she started last year, the gray mare looked as good as ever with a decisive victory in the $300,000 feature at Sam Houston Race Park.

As she tends to do, the fruit of a Tapit and Hot Dixie Chick union waited until late to turn it on, but once she did, there was no doubt who was best. She proved her superiority deep in the heart of Texas with a 1 3/4-length score.

The winner of the La Troienne Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs last year on Kentucky Oaks day, Pauline’s Pearl won for the seventh time in career 16 starts and raised her lifetime earnings to $1,873,400.

It will be very interesting to see where a mature version of Pauline’s Pearl can go in 2023 and whether she can stick around all the way to the Breeders’ Cup in November at Santa Anita.

I am not ready to predict that Pauline’s Pearl is going to better such monster mares as stablemate Clairiere and the champion Nest, but for now it is a great early-season sign to see her return in such fine form.

As for Gunite, yes, I’ll say it. I think he is going to be a champion this year.

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to HRN, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing webcast HorseCenter, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves on the Board of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars and is a Vox Populi committee member. He is a voter for racing's Hall of Fame, as well as a weekly NTRA poll voter. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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