Echo Zulu Dazzles in Juvenile Fillies, Pizza Bianca Delivers Emotional Win for Flay, Clement

After watching Echo Zulu deliver one of the most dominating victories in Breeders’ Cup history, co-owner Lee Levinson searched for words to sum up the feeling.

“I’m an attorney; I speak for a living and I can’t talk,” Levinson said.

What Levinson just watched had plenty of long-time racing fans and participants also searching for words. Without being asked by jockey Joel Rosario, Echo Zulu drew off in the far turn on her way to a 5 1/4-length victory in the $2 million NetJets Juvenile Fillies Nov. 5 at Del Mar.

The ‘Echo’ victory followed the noise made by her sire Gun Runner four years ago at Del Mar, when he nailed down Horse of the Year honors with a 2 1/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the second edition of the Breeders’ Cup at the Southern California seaside track, Echo Zulu — from the first crop of Gun Runner— wrapped up a divisional Eclipse Award when she completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.24 on a fast track.

Echo Zulu is campaigned by L & N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds, the latter of which campaigned Gun Runner with Three Chimneys Farm. Besides Levinson, Tulsa, Okla.-based L & N Racing also includes his sons Andy and Michael as well as friend Don Nelson.

“She means so much to us and the fact that she is from the first crop of Gun Runner, everything that he did for us, it’s surreal that we’re back here at Del Mar for the second Breeders’ Cup when his crowning moment was the Breeders’ Cup here in 2017,” said Racing Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who conditioned Gun Runner and now trains Echo Zulu. “She’s just done everything right from the first time we got her. And for her to win in such an authoritative fashion in such an excellent time stands for a true champion.”

This year’s Juvenile Fillies saw just six starters with Echo Zulu starting from the outside post. Any concern about getting caught wide on the first turn was quickly erased when she bounced from the starting gate under Rosario to quickly establish a clear lead. Pocahontas Stakes winner Hidden Connection didn’t fare as well as she stumbled just a bit out of the gate and raced fifth into the first turn.

Echo Zulu, the 4-5 favorite, enjoyed a clear advantage through every point of call, well within herself as she cruised through a quarter-mile in :23.42 and a half-mile in :47.01 as Tarabi and Juju’s Map jointly pursued. On the far turn, jockeys Javier Castellano, aboard Tarabi, and Florent Geroux, on Juju’s Map, asked their fillies for their best to no avail. Echo Zulu only added to her advantage — without being asked.

Finally asked by Rosario, Echo Zulu would open up 3 1/2 lengths in early stretch and only build on that advantage to the wire. Juju’s Map would finish second, edging Tarabi by a half-length. 

Co-owner Ron Winchell noted that Echo Zulu became Gun Runner’s first Grade 1 winner with her victory in the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, followed with a Grade 1 score in the Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park, and now gives the young sire a Breeders’ Cup winner from his first crop. Winchell marveled at the accomplishment.

“It’s incredible,” Winchell said. “It’s something you always dream about when you have a horse like Gun Runner, and a first crop getting going with what will be a champion 2-year-old filly. For us to actually own the filly, after what we did with Gun Runner, like Steve was saying, it just makes it that much more special.”

Pizza Bianca Delivers in Juvenile Fillies Turf

It’s not as if the guy hasn’t been trying. Christophe Clement, the Ernie Banks of the Breeders’ Cup, entered the 2021 championship with a big, fat 0-for-40 around his neck, spread over 24 years of understandable frustration. His credentials were otherwise flawless, his reputation envious, and his Breeders’ Cup record, for all those losses, was hardly the stuff of abject failure.

Then again, the timeline is brutal:

Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Gulfstream Park in 1999, Coretta takes the lead deep in the stretch and won’t give up, finally losing by three-quarters of a length to Soaring Softly.

Breeders’ Cup Mile, Belmont Park, 2001, Forbidden Apple opens up in the stretch but is caught in the final yards by Val Royal and finishes second.

Breeders’ Cup Classic, Santa Anita Park in 2009, Gio Ponti has everything beaten and the wire in sight when the unbelievable happens, and Zenyatta sweeps past to break Clement’s heart.

TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile, Churchill Downs in 2010, Gio Ponti and Clement are back for more punishment, this time finishing second to the star European mare Goldikova.

Breeders’ Cup Mile, Santa Anita in 2013, Za Approval finds himself on the lead inside the eighth pole with only one horse behind him making a serious run. Unfortunately, that horse is Wise Dan, who gets up to beat Clement by three-quarters of a length.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Del Mar in 2017, Rushing Fall gets first run, but then here comes Best Performance for Clement and Jose Ortiz. Will they get there? Nope, done in by the short stretch, they are second by three-quarters of a length.

It was the memory of that race Clement must have been suppressing as Ortiz was snaking his way through the guts of the field on Friday in this year’s edition of the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Fate was being a tease once again. Pizza Bianca – bred, owned, and obviously named by Bobby Flay – looked certain to hit the board, but what else was new? So did Disco Partner, Pure Sensation, and Flag Down for Clement, all banking nice paydays but forgotten in time.

Then something miraculous occurred. A seam opened late, and Ortiz plunged the Fastnet Rock  filly through to a half-length victory over the fast-closing Malavath, who in turn beat the Chad Brown-trained Haughty by a neck for second.

Before the race, as Clement waited for Pizza Bianca to arrive at the Del Mar receiving barn, it was suggested that this one could be the one to strangle the albatross once and for all, and that the trainer should prepare for a grand celebration if it should happen. Clement knew better, though. Forty slaps without a kiss will do that to a fellow. Whatever happens, he figured, “I’ll just go back to New York.”

He can float home now on the wings of the dark bay filly who was a solid second in her previous race, the Natalma Stakes at Woodbine.—Jay Hovdey

Modern Games Wins Wild Edition of Juvenile Turf

Godolphin’s Modern Games finished powerfully to win the $1 million Juvenile Turf Nov. 5 at Del Mar in a controversial race.

Before the race Modern Games was announced as scratched after a gate incident with Albahr next to him in post 2. Modern Games was then was allowed to run for purse money only. The son of Dubawi, who was the 9-5 favorite before the scratch, surged through the stretch under William Buick to deliver a clear victory.

Trained by Charlie Appleby, Modern Games completed the mile race for juvenile males in 1:34.72 on firm turf.

As the would-be favorite, many of the fans in attendance had wagered on Modern Games but they were not rewarded for their selection as he raced for the purse only. They greeted the outcome with loud boos.

For betting purposes, the winner was considered to be Tiz the Bomb, who finished second. He was followed by third-place Mackinnon.

The pre-race gate incident that ultimately affected the race’s two prominent runners began with Albahr, also owned by Godolphin, who flipped in the starting gate. Albahr was scratched ahead of the race after an incident and jogged off with no major injuries. Modern Games was fine and approved by the vets to run although he raced for purse money only as he was announced as scratched for a time. The incident caused about a 17-minute delay.—Bob Ehalt

Twilight Gleaming Gives Ward Third Straight Juvenile Turf Sprint Win

Trainer Wesley Ward is rapidly becoming the world’s expert in training 2-year-olds to sprint on the turf. In only four years of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, Ward has won the race three times and finished second the only time he lost.

Twice the trainer has won the race with colts, and this time he did it with a filly in the $1 million race, though not the one most people were expecting. Instead of winning with favored Averly Jane, Ward took it at Del Mar with Twilight Gleaming, the 5-1 second choice. Twilight Gleaming became the first filly to win the Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Maybe the right combination must also include jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who was aboard Ward-trained winner Four Wheel Drive in 2019, Golden Pal in 2020, and now, Twilight Gleaming.

But credit the filly as well, who got the jump on the rest of the large field, giving her an advantage that ultimately no one could overcome.—Tracy Gantz