Unwrapping Saturday’s Grade 1 Acorn Stakes, one of eight Grade 1 races on the weekend’s Belmont Stakes card, means finding the answer to two questions: can Echo Zulu – your 3/5 Acorn favorite — cut back? And, can the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Filly rebound from her first loss?
Echo Zulu was 5-for-5 going into May’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Three of those were Grade 1 wins, including the Spinaway at Saratoga, the Frizette at Belmont Park, and a gate-to-wire romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. She added her fifth victory in her 3-year-old debut, nipping Hidden Connection by a nose in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks.
But that win came with caveats that foreshadowed what lay ahead. Echo Zulu barely held off her rival despite leaving the starting gate as the 1/10 favorite. Five weeks later, Echo Zulu’s front-running speed finally let her down.
Echo Zulu ran out of gas and invincibility
As the 4/1 second choice, Echo Zulu promptly went out with pace-setter Yuugiri, pressing her the entire way. But when Joel Rosario asked for more entering the stretch, Echo Zulu had nothing left. She faded to fourth, three lengths behind winner Secret Oath and a half-length back of Desert Dawn in third.
“I thought she ran great in the Oaks to miss being second by a length and off one race for the year,” Dave Fiske, Winchell Thoroughbred’s racing and bloodstock advisor, told the New York Racing Association. “I thought she did really well. As fast as she is, you’d have to figure she’s going to be more effective around one turn.”
Hence, Echo Zulu’s presence in the Acorn, a one-turn mile for 3-year-old fillies. It’s not like this is uncharted dirt for the daughter of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Last October’s Frizette was a one-turn mile, and Echo Zulu tore apart her rivals by 7 ½ lengths.
Echo Zulu can handle the mile — but Matareya?
“I’m very comfortable with her going back to the mile with how brilliant she is,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “She made a good account of herself on some very trying circumstances in the Oaks, but I’m extremely happy about the opportunity to back her up to the one-turn mile at Belmont, where she ran a brilliant race in last year’s Frizette.”
Fiske said he’s seen nothing in Echo Zulu that indicates a distance cutback – or losing her first race – is problematic.
“She seems to be as fast as she’s always been,” he said. “I watched her work last week and her exercise rider couldn’t have been standing any taller, any straighter in the irons. He just had hands on her withers and never moved.”
Grade 1 Acorn/Belmont Park
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Dream Lith, 15/1 (Ramon Vazquez/Robertino Diodoro)
- Inventing, 20/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Todd Pletcher)
- Divine Huntress, 12/1 (Luis Saez/Graham Motion)
- Matareya, 6/5 (Flavien Prat/Brad Cox)
- Echo Zulu, 3/5 (Joel Rosario/Steve Asmussen)
What competition Echo Zulu faces in the Acorn should come from Matareya, who stretches out to a mile after winning her first three races – all sprints – by a combined 16 lengths. Her last race came a few hours before Echo Zulu’s fourth in the Oaks. Matareya won the seven-furlong Grade 2 Eight Belles by 2 ¼ lengths.
Matareya finished second in a one-mile allowance on New Year’s Eve at Oaklawn Park. Her only in-the-money miss in seven races (4-2-0) came with her fifth the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Alcibiades last October at Keeneland.