First-crop sires: Echo Zulu rolls, Concept breaks through for Gun Runner

October 5th, 2021

Gun Runner, the 2017 Horse of the Year, is one of the young sires with first-crop two-year-olds that the TwinSpires team is following in 2021.

Still the leading freshman sire, Gun Runner also tops the overall juvenile sire list, as his first-crop progeny has earned more than two-year-olds by such established patriarchs as Into Mischief.

Before we profile his three new winners since our last installment, his high-profile graded stakes performers warrant updates.

Echo Zulu is the star

Gun Runner’s star so far is undefeated Echo Zulu, the potential favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

The Steve Asmussen pupil followed up her sparkling Spinaway S. (G1) victory with another tour de force over a mile in the Frizette S. (G1) on Sunday. That romp boosted her bankroll to $440,000 and propelled her to the top of the leaderboard on the nascent Road to the Kentucky Oaks.

Gun Runner has another Grade 1 winner in Gunite, a fellow Asmussen trainee who scored a career high in the Hopeful S. (G1). Thanks to Gunite and Echo Zulu, Gun Runner became the first sire to turn the Hopeful/Spinaway double since the legendary Bold Ruler more than a half-century ago. Gunite was unable to keep the momentum going in Saturday’s Champagne S. (G1), where he tired to finish fifth.

Gun Runner’s Best Pal S. (G2) winner, Pappacap, raced greenly for a fourth-place finish in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), but the Mark Casse-trained runner posted a much better effort when he came in second to Corniche in the American Pharoah S. (G1). Also keep an eye out for Guntown, whose sixth in the Iroquois (G3) has the look of a building-block race.


Concept broke his maiden in the Sept. 25 Kip Deville S. at Remington Park, which put him on the path to the Oct. 29 Clever Trevor S. and the Dec. 17 Springboard Mile.

Concept is trained by Asmussen, for a partnership including Winchell Thoroughbreds, which is a familiar set of connections for Gun Runner juveniles. His co-owner and breeder is Tony Holmes.

After a tiring third in his July 2 debut at Lone Star, Concept was pitched straight into stakes company. He ran a similar race in the Aug. 14 Prairie Gold Juvenile S., where he was involved in the pace but retreated to fifth.

Concept was primed for a stronger finish in the Kip Deville on Oklahoma Derby Day. After he took serious pace pressure through fractions of :21.96 and :45.28, the 1.90-1 chance put away the even-money favorite. Concept, under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., finished six furlongs in a snappy 1:10.12.

Asmussen, who has now trained nine of Gun Runner’s 13 winners, commented that the strapping colt needed his first two starts to bring him on. The Hall of Famer expects further improvement with maturity and added distance.

Concept is out of Majestic Jewel, by the Indian Charlie stallion Cindago. The mare is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Evening Jewel, from the family of $2.8 million-earner General Challenge.

Concept’s pedigree sports inbreeding to the “Iron Horse,” Giant’s Causeway. The colt’s second dam is by Giant’s Causeway, who factors as Gun Runner’s broodmare sire.


Also at Remington, the Asmussen-trained Hern scored in his third start but first in a dirt route.

A dirt sprint was too much for him in his June 18 debut at Lone Star, where he trailed in seventh. Hern stretched out on turf at the same track and ran incrementally better in fifth. He put it together as the 2-1 second choice in the Remington mile maiden Sept. 8.

Scrambled to the lead out of the gate, Hern dictated the pace, through comfortable splits of :24.73, :49.96, and 1:15.41. He repelled 7-5 favorite Chrome King, spurted clear in upper stretch under good handling by Leandro Goncalves, and widened to 4 3/4 lengths, in 1:40.27.

L and N Racing purchased Hern for $155,000 as a yearling. Bred by Charles Chu, the chestnut is out of the multiple stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare Sweet Opportunity, who was runner-up in the 2015 Remington Park Oaks. This is the family of graded winners Adriano and Strike Power, tracing to Grade 1 winner Golden Treat, a half-sister to 1987 Belmont (G1) conqueror Bet Twice.

Mystique Saboteur

Mystique Saboteur is likewise out of a Distorted Humor mare, who finished second in the Remington Park Oaks. But her dam, Jemima’s Pearl, also earned graded placings in the 2012 Fantasy S. (G2) and Monmouth Oaks (G3).

Trained by Steve Margolis for Rebel Thoroughbreds, Mystique Saboteur faded to fifth as the 1.70-1 favorite in her Ellis Park unveiling. She added blinkers Sept. 8 at Indiana Grand and produced a total turnaround as the 3.20-1 second choice.

With a step up in class for a Sept. 30 Churchill Downs allowance, Mystique Saboteur came in a non-threatening seventh.

Mystique Saboteur was bred in Louisiana by Gulf Coast Stables. The $50,000 Keeneland January yearling later failed to sell for $27,000 at the same venue’s September Sale.

Cyberknife’s DQ

Gun Runner appeared to have another winner on his ledger Sept. 25, when Cyberknife prevailed over Hoist the Gold at Churchill. But the Brad Cox trainee lugged in and bumped Hoist the Gold, which prompted the stewards to post the inquiry sign. Cyberknife was demoted for interference and placed second.

Cyberknife nevertheless proclaimed his potential for a few reasons. As a first-time starter, Cyberknife did particularly well to subdue the more experienced Hoist the Gold. And he did so despite his rookie mistakes, which arguably affected him more than his rival, and staying on his wrong lead.

The time was a rapid 1:09.64 for six furlongs, and there was a 9 1/4-length gap back to third. Hoist the Gold entered off a distant second at Saratoga to Jack Christopher, the next-out Champagne winner.

With a maiden win surely in the offing, Cyberknife should be highlighted in a future Gun Runner update.