Catching My Eye: Asmussen and Kenneally runners at Churchill Downs

June 6th, 2023

Racing analyst Kevin Kilroy weighs in on a pair of Steve Asmussen runners and a trio from the barn of Eddie Kenneally who caught his attention at Churchill Downs.

Two from the Asmussen Barn

It’s not just winning, not just the time or the trip; sometimes these younger Thoroughbreds show you their talent with their ears. Take three-year-old Magic Tap, who scored the wire-to-wire win in his second start after fighting off Mr McGregor’s bid and pulling away to win by six on Saturday.

Breaking from the rail, Magic Tap got the lead as the outside aforementioned colt came flying to position right behind him and began applying pressure. Florent Geroux did not lose his cool and use too much horse, allowing Magic Tap to travel comfortably through every step of the 1 1/16 miles.

When engaged by Mr McGregor coming out of the second turn, both ears were pricked back showing his full focus on his run. Prior to that, and as soon as he had disposed of that foe, he went back to one ear forward and one ear back, flopping, relaxed and waiting to hear from his rider for instructions.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, you know Magic Tap is being brought along on his own terms and there is more to be seen than the 92 Brisnet Speed figure we saw on Friday.

Gunite. Bango. The win went to Asmussen’s four-year-old son of Gun Runner, but both older males put in monster performances in Saturday’s Aristides. A Grade 3 stakes up until 2018 (rumor has it, next year it will be again), the field definitely had graded stakes talent, as both Gunite and Sibelius exited strong performances in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen. The formful Strava and Tejano Twist ran as well.

Strava set a hot pace, pressured by Sibelius and Bango, who was widest of the three. Johnny Velazquez called on the Greg Foley trainee to move too soon, edging out the other two halfway through the second turn and fighting back their inside bids before putting them away with a furlong to go. Gunite, who sat patiently while traveling easily behind those three throughout, had gathered his run, measured up Bango, and shot by him to win by 1 and 3/4 lengths.

Asmussen’s barn is hot at Churchill, and there’s no doubt Gunite will be a major player in the older sprint division. All reports are that Bango is only getting better in the horse’s sixth year, and he definitely deserves a shot in the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In Phoenix (G2) this fall at Keeneland.

Three Wins for Kenneally

Pro Oxidant was the top allowance sprinter of the meet this past year at Fair Grounds. I wasn't surprised to see Eddie Kenneally slot him in the Commonwealth (G3) this spring at Keeneland. He finished sixth of 10 that day — there were some minor trip excuses and maybe seven furlongs was too long for him.

On Thursday, he cut back a half-furlong and took on a decent field at the n3x level. Like a cat preferring to play with his mice before devouring them, Pro Oxidant tends to toy with his foes, usually breaking sharply and at some point dipping his nose out front on the lead before dropping back to stalk and pounce. It was no different on Thursday.

With Luis Saez aboard, he broke well but not on the lead, then fought to the front after a furlong. Ricardo Santana, who was riding Radical Right on the lead to his outside, looked over confused to see this move and then gunned it to regain control as Saez backed Pro Oxidant back.

Mister Mmmmm came charging into second and Pro Oxidant further loosened his pressure, but coming out of the turn, he beat that foe to the outside pressing spot and began his stranglehold on Radical Right, who fought for his life through the stretch. But Pro Oxidant kept finding more and prevailed in the end by 1 3/4 lengths.

In his final run as a three-year-old, Pro Oxidant freaked and ran a 104 Brisnet Speed figure. Though unable to match that since, he is building back toward that form, earning a 99 on Friday, and I would guess he's about to pop forward with a winning stakes run in his next start.

L J’s Emma trained so well this winter at Fair Grounds that in her debut on Lecomte Day in January, she was made the favorite against nine other sophomore fillies, including stakes-winner Merlazza, who ran fifth in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2).

The daughter of Into Mischief residing in Kenneally’s barn finished at the back of the pack that day, offered a similar effort in her second start, but then she switched to turf and flaunted her talent with a third-place effort sprinting at Keeneland. Sticking to the sod at 5 1/2 furlongs for her fourth start, L J’s Emma had tough competition in odds-on favorite Anna’s Arabesque, but she rose to the occasion to break her maiden.

She had a perfect trip as the pocket formed around her, saving ground, tipping out, but still she looked absolutely professional in blasting by her main rival in the final jumps ahead of the wire. She’s got talent, maturity, and she’s found her arena.

The Kenneally barn also sent out the four-year-old Braganza on Saturday, who beat a softer field by almost seven lengths for her second win in a row, and third in seven starts. She's a solid filly who seems poised to step up in class and possibly stretch out past seven panels.