First-crop sires: Gun Runner's Echo Zulu flashes star potential at Saratoga

July 21st, 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. Our first installment covered Gun Runner’s background and his three initial winners, and our second highlighted Costa Terra among another winning trio.

On opening day at Saratoga, Gun Runner furnished arguably his most impressive winner so far in Echo Zulu. The well-bred filly brought up his total to eight winners, following Joyrunner’s debut victory the preceding week.

Echo Zulu

As a half-sister to last year’s H. Allen Jerkens S. (G1) hero Echo Town, Grade 3 scorer J Boys Echo, Grade 3-placed Unbridled Outlaw, and multiple stakes-placed Dragic, Echo Zulu could have inspired stakes hopes all along. But her July 15 premiere at the Spa offered solid evidence of her ability.

Echo Zulu has connections in common with both her sire and half-brother Echo Town. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has trained them all. L and N Racing campaigned Echo Town, Winchell Thoroughbreds co-owned Gun Runner, and now they’re partners in Echo Zulu, who brought $300,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

“We owned Echo Town, and he (Ron Winchell) owned Gun Runner, so it made sense for us both to team up on the filly,” Michael Levinson of L and N Racing told NYRA publicity. “It’s sentimental if nothing else, and she looked the part. She’s a beautiful horse. We were at the sale, saw she was in the book. Teaming up with Ron Winchell just made sense.

“They (Echo Town and Echo Zulu) had about the same shape, and were both very attractive. We hit lightning in a bottle with Echo Town for less than this one, but a Grade 1 win gave her the extra value. They’re both great-looking horses, everyone involved liked her, so we just had to have her.”

The 4.10-1 third choice with Ricardo Santana Jr., Echo Zulu pressed 3-2 favorite Lady Scarlet through quick fractions of :22.07 and :45.68. They soon sped clear of the rest.

Lady Scarlet had the benefit of experience, having finished second at Churchill Downs June 4, but that edge wasn’t enough to help her cope with Echo Zulu. Turning for home, Echo Zulu was traveling more easily than Lady Scarlet, who was coming under a ride. Santana had only to nudge her along for Echo Zulu to draw off by 5 1/2 lengths, and garner a “Rising Star” badge from Thoroughbred Daily News.

Even more convincing was the final time of 1:04.69, much faster than the other 5 1/2-furlong maiden for juvenile fillies earlier on the card. That race was won in a frontrunning romp by Microbiome in 1:05.60.

Echo Zulu recorded a fine Brisnet Speed rating of 96, compared to Microbiome’s 90. Later the same day, Pretty Birdie earned a 90 for her Schuylerville S. (G3) coup. The trio could clash in a major stakes at the Spa, with the Sept. 5 Spinaway S. (G1) probably the best spot for such a showdown. The Aug. 8 Adirondack S. (G2) remains a potential target for the new maiden winners, although their connections may want more spacing.

Winchell’s advisor and racing manager, D.J. Fiske, commented to NYRA that Echo Zulu showed speed:

The assessment on most of the Gun Runners is that they don’t have a lot of early gate speed, but they will keep running. Everyone has been excited that distance will be where they really start to excel. The performance (last Thursday) was good. She left the gate running, going around the turn laying second. All the other Gun Runners we’ve had don’t have a lot of quit in them. To open up by five and run such a high Beyer (92) was just icing on the cake.

Echo Zulu could have added zip from her dam, Letgomyecho, who won her first three starts sprinting including the 2005 Forward Gal S. (G2). The daughter of Menifee never raced again after an uncharacteristic fifth in the Ashland S. (G1), so her real distance capacity was not established. 

Sold under the Betz Thoroughbreds banner, Echo Zulu was bred in Kentucky by the partnership of Betz, J. Betz, Burns, CHNNHK, Magers, CoCo Equine, and Ramsby.


James “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, best known for campaigning champion sprinter Runhappy, has the similarly named but unrelated filly Joyrunner. Her name reflects her parents, being by Gun Runner and out of Joy.

A $145,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Joyrunner capitalized on a pace collapse in her July 8 debut at Indiana Grand. The Laura Wohlers trainee was unhurried near the back of the pack through a torrid opening quarter in :21.97 on the sloppy track. Kept wide and in the clear by jockey Joseph Ramos, Joyrunner commenced a circling move by the half in :46.14. The 4.40-1 chance got rolling in deep stretch and won going away by 1 1/2 lengths. She completed 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.24. 

Joyrunner was bred by Dark Hollow Farm in Maryland. Her dam, the multiple turf stakes winner Joy, is a half-sister to O Dionysus, who won or placed in a total of 11 stakes on both dirt and turf. Further back, this is the family of Hall of Fame sprinter Safely Kept.

Postscript on inbreeding to Storm Cat

Both Joyrunner and Echo Zulu sport duplications of Storm Cat in their pedigrees. That could become a frequent pattern for progeny of Gun Runner, who is out of a mare by the Storm Cat stallion Giant’s Causeway.

Both fillies' dams are by Storm Cat-line sires. Joy is by Pure Prize, a son of Storm Cat and Hall of Famer Heavenly Prize. Letgomyecho's sire, Menifee, is by Storm Cat's son Harlan.