One day after breaking the North American record for career wins, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen celebrated another significant victory at Saratoga in Sunday’s $200,000 Adirondack S. (G2), as Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Wicked Halo earned her first stakes win. Her performance was all the more special since she’s the offspring of Winchell/Asmussen stars Gun Runner and Just Wicked, whose signature score came in the 2015 running of the Adirondack.
Wicked Halo displayed the high speed that’s become her trademark. A frontrunning debut winner at Lone Star June 5, the gray set a blistering pace in the June 26 Debutante S. at Churchill Downs and tired to third. A bobbling start on the rail might have compromised her that day, while a clean break from post 7 helped her cause at the Spa.
Sent off as the 4.70-1 fourth choice, Wicked Halo was not as fast at the start as Microbiome, who got a flyer from the gate. But Wicked Halo responded to Jose Ortiz’s urging and grabbed the lead before passing the opening quarter in :21.55. Although Microbiome was glued alongside as Wicked Halo ripped the half in :44.80, she could not keep going the pace by midstretch.
Wicked Halo put away her longtime rival and extended her advantage to 3 1/2 lengths at the wire. She was slowing late to finish 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.99, but the rest had been run off their feet.
As an indication of how punishing the pace was, longshot closers filled the placings. The 16.70-1 Interstatedaydream, last early, rallied up the inside to take second by a half-length from the 36.75-1 Saucy Lady T who covered more ground. Mainstay, third through the heart of the race, weakened to fourth.
Microbiome faded to fifth, followed by 2-1 favorite Ontheonesandtwos, who bobbled at the break; J L’s Rockette, another with a troubled start; Shesawildjoker; and the eased Boss Lady Kim.
Ortiz described why the tempo is often demanding in Saratoga’s major juvenile events.
“In these two-year-old stakes races, there’s going to be pace because a lot of them break their maiden wire-to-wire or are just sitting off it,” Ortiz told NYRA publicity. “A lot of times, the pace is going to be hot in races like this, and it was hot this time.
“Tyler (Gaffalione aboard Microbiome) broke better than me. I put her up there and she responded well. They were going fast, but she was ready. Steve had her ready to run.”
Asmussen also commented on the stiff test posed by the Spa.
“That’s Saratoga tough. The filly on the outside outbroke her a little bit. They ride aggressively here, and horses either respond or get beat, and she responded. For a two-year-old filly, and the way she acted in the paddock off hard races, it’s a level of class that is hard to come by.”
Wicked Halo capped a big weekend for Gun Runner as well as her human connections. The leading freshman sire turned a cross-country graded double, with Pappacap taking Saturday’s Best Pal S. (G2) at Del Mar for Rustlewood Farm and trainer Mark Casse.
“Ron (Winchell) giving us horses like this makes all the accolades possible,” Asmussen said, alluding to Wicked Halo’s parents. Winchell is also co-owner of his Saturday record-breaker, Stellar Tap.
“This filly, her mother won the Adirondack, and what a great sire Gun Runner is proving to be. To duplicate what her mother did is very special.”
Just Wicked, herself a Winchell homebred, never built on her Adirondack victory. Asmussen is taking her lesson to heart when mapping out the future for Wicked Halo.
“I think we may give her a break,” the trainer added when asked about the Sept. 5 Spinaway (G1). “I got overly aggressive with the mother and being fortunate to have the family continuously, you need to learn from it.”
The team has another Gun Runner eligible for the Spinaway, debut romper Echo Zulu.
Kentucky-bred Wicked Halo has now bankrolled $144,650 from her 3-2-0-1 line. Dam Just Wicked is a full sister to Grade 2 victress My Miss Lilly, both daughters of Tapit and the stakes-winning Harlan’s Holiday mare Wicked Deed.