Red Route One posts final breeze before Belmont Stakes 2023

Red Route One posts final breeze before Belmont Stakes 2023
Photo: Coady Photography

Red Route One posted his final work in preparation for Belmont Stakes 2023 when breezing a half-mile in 50.20 seconds Monday over Belmont Park’s dirt training track.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen for owner-breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds, the chestnut son of Gun Runner stepped onto the track just after the first renovation break and was walked down part of the stretch before turning back the other way and making his way to the backstretch to begin his exercise. He completed the work under sunny skies with a temperature in the low 60s.

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“I thought he went beautiful,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant. “It was nice and fluid, and he came back with good energy. I’m very happy with him. We wanted to be out on the track before it got really busy.”

It was the second work Red Route One has posted at Belmont since finishing fourth in the Preakness on May 20 at Pimlico. He logged a similar half-mile breeze in 50.85 seconds over the Belmont main track last Monday.

Sheets said he has been pleased with the way Red Route One has come along in the past two weeks.

“He’s doing everything right, and I have no complaints,” Sheets said.

In the Preakness, Red Route One rated in sixth, six lengths off the moderate pace set by returning rival National Treasure and improved to fourth position by the three-quarters call. But he could not reel in the runaway pair of Blazing Sevens and National Treasure as they battled down the stretch to the wire. Red Route One finished 4 3/4 lengths back of the victorious National Treasure, who completed the 1 3/16 miles in a final time of 1:55.12.

Red Route One entered the Preakness from a narrow victory over fellow Belmont Stakes hopeful Tapit Shoes in the nine-furlong Bath House Row on April 22 at Oaklawn. He finished second in the Southwest (G3) and Rebel (G2) earlier this year at the Hot Springs oval and earned a Grade 1 placing when third in the Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland.

Saratoga action in the cards for Winchell graded-stakes winners

The current main focus of owner Ron Winchell’s racing operation is Belmont Stakes contender Red Route One, but the upcoming meet at Saratoga is in play for much of his graded stakes-winning Gun Runner progeny, including Gunite, who could target the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) on July 29.

Also trained by Asmussen, Gunite was triumphant in Saturday’s listed Aristides at Churchill Downs, which he won by 1 3/4 lengths while hitting a career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form. The effort came after a second-place finish in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) on Feb. 25 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse and then a third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on March 25 at Meydan Racecourse.

Gunite earned both of his graded wins at Saratoga, taking the 2021 Hopeful (G1) and last year’s Amsterdam (G2) at the Spa.

Winchell Thoroughbreds racing and bloodstock advisor David Fiske said Gunite has matured throughout his 4-year-old year.

“We were hoping if he came back and was as good or better, that he would show up at Saratoga this year, given how good he’s run there in the past,” Fiske said.

Gunite, a Kentucky homebred, is out of the stakes-winning Cowboy Cal mare Simple Surprise, who won the 2015 Bolton Landing at the Spa. A seven-time stakes winner overall, he boasts a productive record of 17: 8-5-2 and $1,749,509 in earnings.

Previous Saratoga graded-stakes victresses Echo Zulu and Wicked Halo also are slated for Spa action over the summer.

“I would suspect that they will all be on the Oklahoma training track before too long,” Fiske said.

Echo Zulu, the 2021 champion 2-year-old filly, has not raced at Saratoga since capturing the Spinaway (G1) during her champion season. The Asmussen-trained 4-year-old bay filly was second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November at Keeneland and began her current season in style when capturing the Winning Colors (G3) on May 29 at Churchill Downs by 5 3/4 lengths. The effort produced a career-best 97 Beyer. She is owned by Winchell in partnership with L and N Racing – who campaigned her Grade 1-winning half-brother Echo Town.

Wicked Halo, a millionaire, is unbeaten in two graded-stakes starts at Saratoga for Asmussen. She scored in her graded debut in the 2021 Adirondack (G2) and captured the Prioress (G2) in September. A winner of the Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland and third-place finisher of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, the gray filly defeated Matareya in the March 31 Matron in her seasonal debut at Oaklawn. She finished second last out to Matareya in the Derby City Distaff (G1) on May 6 at Churchill Downs, where defending champion female sprinter Goodnight Olive finished third after a victory in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland.

“That might be the toughest division anywhere,” Fiske commented. “When Goodnight Olive ran in her comeback race, she got a 98 Beyer. When Matareya won on Derby day, she got a 97. Wicked Halo’s comeback race was a 94 and she ran a 95 on Derby day. That’s a pretty tough trio right there.”

Events for elder female dirt sprinters at Saratoga include the Honorable Miss Handicap (G2) on July 26 at six furlongs and the Ballerina Handicap (G1) on Aug. 26 at seven furlongs.

Fiske mentioned the seven-furlong $200,000 Bed o’ Roses (G2) on June 17 at Belmont Park as a possible Saratoga springboard for Wicked Halo.

“We nominated Wicked Halo to the Bed o’ Roses and she’s still possible, but we haven’t decided on anything yet,” Fiske said.

Wicked Halo, a Kentucky homebred, is out of the graded stakes-winning Tapit mare Just Wicked.

Fiske mentioned that Disarm, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby last out, likely will target the Matt Winn (G3) on June 11, which will be run at Ellis Park.

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