by Teresa Genaro
Steve Asmussen may be having a hard time finding the winner’s circle at Saratoga, but he’s making it count when his horses hit the wire first.
Coming into last week’s Whitney (G1), Asmussen had had yet to win a race at the Spa. Gun Runner got him off the duck, but the drought continued through this week, until, once again, an Asmussen runner took down a graded stakes race when Copper Bullet won the Saratoga Special (G2).
Breaking from the far outside post 9, Copper Bullet and Irad Ortiz Jr. raced wide up the backstretch, tracking a quick pace and sitting just off the leaders. Coming around the final turn, the two-year-old bay colt with the big blaze vanquished his rivals, drawing off to win by four lengths. He ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.45.
“I’m not going to complain,” said co-owner Ron Winchell about Asmussen’s record at this meet. “We’ve got a Grade 1 and a Grade 2.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds won the Saratoga Special in 2003 with Cuvee.
“It’s nice to be back in this race,” said Winchell, who owns Copper Bullet in partnership with Willis Horton Racing. The partnership owns nine two-year-olds together.
Copper Bullet was agitated, fractious, or, as Asmussen put it, “emotional” in the paddock before the race, acting up before heading to the track and after the horse’s earplugs had been removed. Asmussen was unperturbed by the colt’s behavior.
“At Churchill Downs, walking over for the races in front of the grandstand, with the big screen, sets quite a few of them off,” the trainer said. “(The earplugs) are a habit we’ve gotten into.”
Copper Bullet’s previous two starts, an eight-length win and a second-place finish, were both at Churchill.
“He was being awfully sharp (in the paddock),” Asmussen acknowledged. “Saratoga brings that out. Walking to the holding barn through all those people, with a two-year-old who’s very happy about who he is to begin with and sharp enough to be racing, they’ll show a little bit of emotion usually.”
“Next time,” Winchell said of his horse’s equipment, “we’re going to tie a horseshoe to his tail,” alluding to the freaky incident in the Whitney when Gun Runner ran much of the race with a rival’s horseshoe caught in his tail.
Winchell Thoroughbreds purchased the son of More Than Ready for $200,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Out of the Unbridled Song mare Allegory, Copper Bullet was bred by Dell Ridge Farm.
“He’s a great physical,” Winchell said. “You look at him, he looks like a three-year-old.”
“He looks like the real deal,” Asmussen added. “It’s good to see him win a race of his caliber.”