Racing Roundtable: Late Eclipse bids and Echo Zulu

September 27th, 2022

In this week's Racing Roundtable, Kellie Reilly, Vance Hanson, and Alastair Bull talk about the championship aspirations of the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Cotillion (G1) winners, as well as Echo Zulu and other topics.

Do you see any paths for Taiba and/or Society to win their respective division titles?

Kellie Reilly: Taiba has one possible path to supplant division leader Epicenter, but it would require an incredible performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). If Taiba could turn in an impressive victory over older superstars Flightline and Life Is Good, while beating Epicenter, he would have claims on the three-year-old male title. Barring that outcome, Epicenter's overall resume from the Triple Crown trail through the Travers (G1) should be sufficient for the Eclipse, even if both he and Taiba lose in the Classic. I think it's tougher to make an 11th-hour case for Society in the three-year-old fillies' division. There's no older female phenom, analogous to Flightline, to raise the stakes in the Distaff (G1) and make it a game-changer. If Society wins at the Breeders' Cup, she'd avenge her loss to Nest in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). Such a leveling of their head-to-head record would still leave Nest with the superior body of work throughout the year, including her runner-up effort versus the boys in the Belmont (G1).

Vance Hanson: The most logical path for both is to win their respective Breeders' Cup races, but in the case of Taiba that is easier said than done as older rivals Flightline and Life Is Good appear the horses to beat in the Classic (G1), the former especially. Out-finishing Epicenter in the Classic alone probably won't be enough to pry the title away, just as was the case last season when Medina Spirit beat Essential Quality to the wire in the Classic but was no match for the older Knicks Go. Society, too, doesn't quite have the depth of accomplishment as division leader Nest has so far, and will also have to beat some hard-knocking older mares in the Distaff. The destinies of Taiba and Society are in their own hands, but the odds look long on their late championship bids being successful.

Alastair Bull: By far the most likely path for Taiba to take the male three-year-old title off Epicenter is to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Even if the Travers winner is absent for some reason, the Classic is more prestigious than anything Epicenter has won and victory would likely put Taiba ahead. If Taiba doesn't win the Breeders' Cup Classic, he'd need to decisively beat Epicenter somewhere to take the title. Given their only likely meeting place is the Classic, Taiba would have to beat Epicenter and all other three-year-olds at Keeneland while running a bold race behind a top older horse like Flightline or Life Is Good — and even that may not be enough to convince voters. The same arguments apply to Society's prospects of taking the female three-year-old title; she'd need to decisively beat current frontrunner Nest somewhere, almost certainly in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The real question over both horses is whether they're good enough to successfully walk their paths.

Is Echo Zulu a serious contender for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1)?

KR: In the absence of a standout in the Filly & Mare Sprint ranks, Echo Zulu has put herself into the discussion with her pace-controlling romp in the Dogwood (G3). She definitively answered my question about whether she still exercised the command of her juvenile days. That said, a repeat of the Dogwood won't be enough to defeat her elders in the Breeders' Cup. Echo Zulu needs to move forward off that comeback, but I'd suspect that's exactly what Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen was factoring into his timetable.

VH: It's a target obviously worth pursuing, but the main concern is her lack of experience facing older rivals. It's one thing to pummel your own age group, it's another to do so against more mature and accomplished rivals. Unfortunately, Echo Zulu wasn't tested as severely in the Dogwood as she might have been, as her main rival, stablemate Wicked Halo, was withdrawn. And from a limited campaign this year, she's not quite in the category of recent three-year-old winners of the Filly & Mare Sprint, like Covfefe and Gamine.

AB: Maybe, but she'll need to improve on her winning Dogwood performance to be a factor. Echo Zulu was impressive enough, but runner-up Tarabi hasn't achieved anything to suggest she's in the top rank of female dirt sprinters, so we didn't really learn anything new about Echo Zulu. Her Brisnet Speed Rating of 96 and Class Rating of 121.9 show she has a fair bit of ground to make up on other leading Filly & Mare Sprint contenders. Last year's winner, Ce Ce, has run to a 104 SR and a 123.1 CR this season, and Goodnight Olive recorded a 107 SR and a 125.1 CR when winning the Ballerina (G1). Several other contenders have SRs and CRs higher than Echo Zulu has registered this season, so she has a bit to find yet to win the Filly & Mare Sprint.

Any other takeaways from the weekend?

KR: Taiba, Society, and Echo Zulu all contributed to an amazing Saturday for their sire, Gun Runner. The runaway leader on the second-crop sires' list, the 2017 Horse of the Year had five stakes winners on the day. Aside from his Grade 1 double at Parx, Gun Runner celebrated a stakes triple at Churchill Downs. Gunite was much the best in the Harrods Creek S., and Sixtythreecaliber kept grinding to get up in the Seneca S., before Echo Zulu's heroics. Moreover, Gun Runner recorded a couple of high-profile thirds, courtesy of Cyberknife in the Pennsylvania Derby and Runninsonofagun in the Gallant Bob (G2). Saturday's results underscore not only Gun Runner's quality, but his range, from sprinters to routers.

VH: Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath has been one of the stars of the three-year-old filly division this year, but in recording her fourth consecutive loss in the Cotillion she left the impression that continuing on to the Breeders' Cup Distaff would be asking a lot for a filly whose recent competitiveness has been on the downwards slide. Given she failed to out-finish Morning Matcha for the place at Parx, it's difficult to be optimistic about her chances at Keeneland, where she'd be facing Nest for a fourth time and older rivals for a first. Secret Oath still has an opportunity to be an even better older horse, but continuing to chase a three-year-old title that she let slip out of her hands over the summer might not be the most practical next step.

JS: It's possible the Filly & Mare Sprint winner did run this weekend, but not at Churchill Downs. While Echo Zulu was dispatching her Dogwood rivals, Kimari put up an impressive effort to win the Gallant Bloom (G2) over 6 1/2 furlongs at Aqueduct on Sunday, recording a 106 Speed Rating and a 123.1 Class Rating. She overhauled Lady Rocket despite Joel Rosario not really asking Kimari for her best until well into the stretch. Kimari recorded a 110 SR and a 124.6 CR when winning the six-furlong Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga in July, and though she was a little disappointing over seven furlongs in the Madison (G1) and the Derby City Distaff (G1) in spring, her last two runs have produced career-high SR and CR figures. She succeeded at seven furlongs in the 2021 Madison, and with Wesley Ward indicating she'll go for the Filly & Mare Sprint rather than the Turf Sprint (G1) as she did last year, she looms as a serious prospect.