Echo Zulu began her march to the champion two-year-old filly title during the 2021 Saratoga season, with a sensational debut score backed up by the Spinaway (G1). Now the Steve Asmussen pupil returns to the Spa for Wednesday’s $200,000 Honorable Miss H. (G2), where she will meet just three opponents in this stepping stone to the Aug. 26 Ballerina H. (G1).
The small but select field includes millionaire Frank’s Rockette, who suffered a tough beat in last year’s Honorable Miss, and rising divisional player Maryquitecontrary, last seen finishing second to reigning champion female sprinter Goodnight Olive in the April 8 Madison (G1).
Echo Zulu was herself runner-up to Goodnight Olive in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), after a midseason switch to shorter targets. The daughter of Gun Runner had been on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail earlier in her sophomore season, a logical path for the unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) champ. But she was not the same force over a route at three. After summoning all her class to eke out the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), she was a brave fourth to Secret Oath and eventual champion Nest in the Kentucky Oaks. Accordingly, her future would be around one turn.
With her focus on sprinting in 2023, Echo Zulu resumed in the May 29 Winning Colors (G3) at Churchill Downs, and wired the six-furlong dash in a brisk 1:08.99. Florent Geroux, who picked up the mount that day, renews their partnership from the rail on Wednesday.
“I think we’re right where we want to be with her,” Asmussen said of the 4-5 morning-line favorite. “Obviously, the Breeders’ Cup is the major target for her. We’re expecting two runs for her here and then the Breeders’ Cup. She’s formidable to say the least.”
Drawn right next door in post 2 is Frank’s Rockette, in the form of her life at the age of six for Bill Mott. The Into Mischief mare has run well in all four of her career starts at the Spa, winning the 2020 Prioress (G2) after placing second in the Adirondack (G2) and Spinaway as a juvenile. Although her chances in last year’s Honorable Miss were compromised by a stumbling start, she almost pulled out a win anyway, until just caught by Kimari.
Frank’s Rockette brings a three-race winning streak this time, unlike her seconditis going into the 2022 running. Romping by a combined margin of 20 lengths in the Dec. 31 Sugar Swirl (G3) and March 11 Hurricane Bertie (G3) at Gulfstream Park, she had to work harder in the April 29 Roxelana S. at Churchill. The 8-5 second choice keeps Junior Alvarado aboard.
Maryquitecontrary burst onto the scene at Gulfstream, where she rattled off five straight capped by the Jan. 28 Inside Information (G2). Transferred to Shug McGaughey, the Florida-bred proved that she could take her game on the road when rallying for second in the Madison at Keeneland.
“I thought she ran good that day,” McGaughey said. “Turning for home, I thought we were going to get her, but to get beat a length by a champion (Goodnight Olive), there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve only had her since March, but I watched her races in Florida – they were pretty darn good.
“She’s training really good and breezed over this sealed track this morning and went great. She’s done really well,” McGaughey added.
The confirmed closer shortens up a panel here, but she’d like a pace war between Echo Zulu and Frank’s Rockette. Regular rider Luca Panici will guide Maryquitecontrary from post 3.
Red-hot jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will try to mastermind an upset with Dr B, who was runner-up to Goodnight Olive in a Spa allowance last August, before she became famous. Dr B later earned her signature win in the Go For Wand (G3) around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile. In her ensuing sprints, the Butch Reid mare was second in the Vagrancy (G3) and a distant fourth behind Goodnight Olive in the June 17 Bed o’ Roses (G3). Dr B hopes that landing in the outside post 4 is a tactical plus.
No show wagering will be offered in the four-horse event, which is carded as the fourth race (2:52 p.m. ET).