Gunnevera Blasts Home in Fountain of Youth
By Dick Downey
Updated March 5 regarding Gunnevera's breakdown and euthanization
A second heavy favorite in as many Kentucky Derby points races today was beaten in the Fountain of Youth Stakes as Gunnevera closed on the early speed to win and become a millionaire.
Practical Joke finished second after also coming from off the pace, and Three Rules was the only part of the early speed to hang around, finishing third. At 94-1 odds, Talk Logistics finished fourth. And at even-money odds, Irish War Cry was far out of camera range at the conclusion of the race.
The Fountain of Youth started out predictably enough, with Three Rules and Holy Bull Stakes winner Irish War Cry vying for the early lead -- Irish War Cry was one length behind -- in a first quarter-mile run in 23.43 and a half in 47.18. Takaful, who is wont to flash early speed, wasn't far behind in third, and Made You Look, making his first start on dirt, was fourth.
The top two made their way to the far turn as Three Rules, ridden by Luis Saez, edged away to lead Irish War Cry by two lengths with six furlongs gone in 1:12.37. Takaful was on his way to a retreat by then, and Made You Look was already in full idle. Meanwhile, Practical Joke, who laid seventh and sixth early on after being steadied on the first turn, was now third, two lengths behind. Gunnevera, who was 10th and last after the first quarter-mile, had advanced to fifth
As the field rounded the bend, Practical Joke and Jose Ortiz boldly loomed up on the leader and looked poised to take it home leaving the turn. No sooner than that happened Gunnevera, who had picked off horses going four wide, was past both of them in upper stretch in the blink of an eye, and the race for first place was over. Javier Castellano guided him home in 1:44.25 for the 1 1/6-mile.
Gunnevera's winning margin was a gaping 5 3/4 lengths. Three Rules dug in gamely but couldn't quite stay with Practical Joke, who edged him by half a length for second.
Finishing behind those three was Talk Logistics, who was beaten 12 1/4 lengths, followed by Lookin for Eight, 191-1 shot Quinientos, Irish War Cry, Takaful, Made You Look and Huracan Americo, who did not finish after taking a bad step and was vanned off. Beasley was scratched and pointed to next Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby.
The win put Gunnevera on top of the Kentucky Derby points standings. With the 50 points earned today, he has 63, more than enough to make the starting gate in the Run for the Roses. The Fountain of Youth was his fifth straight graded stake. In order, he won the Saratoga Special last August, finished fifth in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in October, won the Delta Jackpot in November and was second to Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull Stakes last month after encountering traffic trouble.
Sent off at 4-1 odds, the Antonio Sano trainee returned backers $10.40, $4.00 and $3.20 to win, place and show on $2 bets.
This horse cost $16,000 at the Keeneland September 2015 Yearling Sale and, with his $235,600 share of the $400,000 Fountain of Youth purse, has earned $1,075,200 for owners Solomon Del-Valle and Guillermo Guerra. They run as Peacock Racing Stables LLC.
Practical Joke also advanced his Kentucky Derby aspirations with 20 points earned. He has 34 now and stands fourth on the leaderboard. Three Rules got his first 10 points, and Talk Logistics, who had one point going in, now has six.
Gunnevera is a Kentucky-bred from Brandywine Farm and Stephen Upchurch. By Dialed In, he's out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Rage.
About an hour before the Fountain of Youth, El Areeb finished third as the heavy favorite in the Gotham Stakes. In the last five Kentucky Derby points races, strongly bet favorites have all lost.
UPDATE: Sadly, Mike Welsch at DRF reported via Twitter on Sunday morning that Huracan Americo was euthanized after breaking down in the Fountain of Youth. Jay Privman also reported it Friday night.
Antonio Sano: “I feel very happy. The last race he lost the race because he got bumped. This was different – more horses, different speed. I thought 100 percent that he would win today. Castellano told me, he did it very easy. Castellano never win the Kentucky Derby. For me, it’s the first time, This is the year. I’m very proud for my team and Peacock Racing. I’m very emotional.” On to the Florida Derby.
Javier Castellano: “There was a lot of speed in the race, and the way it set up was perfect. That’s what I was looking for. He’s the kind of horse where you have to make one run. You can’t chase the pace, because you’re not going to finish. I tried to do that a little bit last time, but I learned my lesson. I was able to learn and move forward and it paid off today.
“I took my time with him. He’s a very professional horse. He’s a 3-year-old horse but he acts like a 6-year-old. He’s an old pro. The way he was in the post parade, he was very composed and he waited in the gate. He broke from the gate and I could have been a little closer to the pace and chased a little bit to secure my spot in the first turn, but I didn’t. I took my time with him. I let him follow the pace and he started picking it up little by little. Turning for home, I knew I had it. I knew because of the way he did it when I asked him, he responded very well.
“I was very lucky and very fortunate. Last time, it was another thing. I tried to save ground and unfortunately I was completely stopped at the three-eighths pole. He lost his momentum and came back again, but it was too late.”
Peacock Racing Stable's Solomon Del-Valle (through interpreter): "I am the happiness man on earth. I thank God, Antonio Sano and Javier Castellano. All three champions. This is my biggest win. I've been around horses since I was five years old. I've had as many as 40 horses in Venezuela. Antonio bought this horse for $16,000. Incredible. I love this horse. I get up every day at 4 a.m. to see the horse. I was 100-percent sure he would win today."
Chad Brown, trainer of Practical Joke: “I was feeling pretty good around the turn there. I thought the horse ran a great race considering the layoff. Gunnevera was much the best today -- hats off to them. That horse was really impressive. I'm happy with my horse. I think I got the race I needed into my horse. Jose is very happy about the race. He continues to learn a little bit about this horse. He was happy with his effort, as I was. He's in play now. He has a race under his belt. He should move forward off of it. Everything is on the table. A lot of it is going to depend on how the horse is training, who is running where, and what I'm most comfortable with."
Luis Saez, aboard Three Rules: “He was trying good, man. When he came to the half-mile pole, I thought we had it easy. But when I started to ask him, he made a little noise. That’s why I think he got tired. If they check and they find something happened with him, he’s going to be a nice horse. He’s a very nice horse. I thought we were going to win.”
Graham Motion, trainer of Irish War Cry: “He felt he was in a good enough spot. I wish he had maybe settled a little more off the pace perhaps, but I don’t want to make excuses. He looked like he was going pretty nicely. I can’t really say what happened, whether he bounced or not. He ran an awfully big race last time. He looks fine. My instincts and first reaction is that possibly I ran him back too quick. It’s hard to know. He’s done so well between races.”
Joel Rosario, aboard Irish War Cry: “I had a good trip. He broke very sharp like he did last time. I was trying to stay away from the horse that was on the lead for a little bit, and he looked very good. He looked very relaxed after that, and when I went to go get him he went for a little bit and came up a little empty in the end.”