When you win a Grade 1 stakes race very early in your career, it can be difficult to live up to the high expectations that come with the early success. And so it was for Gunite and Rattle N Roll, who both had their struggles along the way.
Epicenter was given the nod as the best of the crop in 2022, and Gunite and Rattle N Roll needed to find their niche. With their mojo now fully restored, both can be counted among the most consistent of American stakes horses.
Now 4 years old and far removed from those big early victories, both horses are flourishing as mature runners. Their respective prowess was on full display Saturday at Churchill Downs as Gunite aced his return to the U.S. in the Aristides Stakes, and Rattle N Roll kept his winning streak going with a win in the Blame Stakes (G3).
Gunite is on the short list of America's top sprinters. Still, in his first race back after a couple of races in the Middle East, you had to wonder if the son of Gun Runner would be at his best on Saturday. The question was answered with authority.
Facing a salty little field for a listed stakes race, Gunite was steered to the outside for the stretch drive confidently by rider Tyler Gaffalione, and his mount responded with a relentless run down the stretch that carried him to a 1 3/4-length victory.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Gunite denied runner-up Bango a third consecutive win in the Aristides while clocking the 6-furlong distance in a sharp 1:08.46.
It seems like a long time ago that the promising dark bay won the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, as he now has amassed six more stakes wins since that summertime victory as a juvenile. Clearly getting better with age, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred is 2-for-2 this year in the U.S.
The classy sprinter began the year with a convincing victory in the King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn before a second-place finish in the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) in Saudi Arabia and a narrow loss when third in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (GI) at Meydan.
With Saturday’s win, Gunite raised his lifetime record to 17: 8-5-2. The model of consistency has collected just a shade under $1.75 million in career earnings.
Whether it be the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, where he finished fourth last year, or the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Gunite looks poised to make a serious run at the world championships in November at Santa Anita.
A few races after Gunite did his thing sprinting, it was Rattle N Roll’s turn to impress. Working on short rest, the 4-year-old son of Connect was sent to the post as a solid 17-10 favorite in a field of eight in the Blame Stakes.
Ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., the race favorite was bottled up down on the inside for much of the race. But when he finally was afforded running room, he quickly exerted his superiority and defeated Call Me Fast by 1 1/4 lengths.
Rattle N Roll completed the nine furlongs in racehorse time of 1:48.93 for his third graded-stakes win in the last six weeks.
His streak began at Keeneland with a win in the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) and continued two weeks ago when he gamely won the Pimlico Special (G3).
Although the rapid-fire wins for trainer Kenny McPeek were in Grade 3 races, with the lack of a standout in the older male division, Rattle N Roll looks ready to challenge the top horses in the division.
His early Grade 1 victory came one month after Gunite when he won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in his stakes debut. A run at the Kentucky Derby last spring was not meant to be, but he has now rattled off six stakes victories in his last nine starts for owner Lucky Seven Stable.
A pair of Kentucky-breds who looked destined for big things in their juvenile seasons, Gunite and Rattle N Roll did not initially live up to those lofty expectations. Not rushed off to the breeding shed, however, both Grade 1 winners have found their grooves.
With seven stakes victories each, I really wish we had more horses like Gunite and Rattle N Roll in American racing.