Gunnevera Tops Kentucky Derby Points after Fountain of Youth Romp

Javier CastellanoGunnevera powered clear of more fancied rivals in the $400,000 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, March 4. Swooping late from last to first under Javier Castellano (pictured), he won with such authority that Castellano was able to put his whip down and use his hands and heels to urge him over the wire.

Gunnevera was sent off at 4/1 and beat Chad Brown’s Practical Joke (7/2) ridden by Jose Ortiz nearly six lengths in the short run to the wire even though he was caught three wide on the final turn. The 7/1 shot Three Rules finished half a length further back in third, 6 lengths ahead of the 95/1 chance Talk Logistics in fourth.

It was the Holy Bull winner Irish War Cry trained by Graham Motion who was strongly fancied to win. He was sent off as the even-money favorite but finished a long way back after racing up with the strong early pace set by Three Rules under Luis Saez. Irish War Cry found absolutely nothing when asked by Joel Rosario and it was obvious that he was not going to place long before the pack turned for home.

Irish War Cry had beaten Gunnevera three lengths a month ago in the Holy Bull but he finished 22 lengths behind him at the same track over the same distance of a mile and half a furlong with only two horses behind him. There would have been three but the 48/1 outsider and Peruvian Derby winner, Huracan Americo, was pulled up by Dante Zanelli Jr and left the track in the veterinarian’s van.

Motion was left wondering if the run had come too soon for his previously unbeaten son of Curlin but other factors such as the way the race unfolded may have contributed to his disappointing performance. Irish War Cry had enjoyed an easy lead last time on his own in the Holy Bull but probably did not settle so well when running wide of the pacesetting Three Rules whom he never headed.

In contrast Gunnevera’s Venezuelan trainer Antonio Sano was ecstatic, delighted that his colt by Dialed In had delivered, repaying the immense confidence of his owners and jockey. Castellano had blamed himself for getting the tactics wrong in the Holy Bull which was run at a slower pace. Irish War Cry led from the moment the gates opened and set his own moderate but uncontested fractions.

Castellano was not shy in expressing his view that he could reverse the placings when they next met. Sano was overwhelmed at the thought that he could have a realistic chance of taking the Kentucky Derby with his blue-blinkered chestnut colt.

For Gunnevera’s owners, Solomon Del-Valle and Guillermo Guerra from Venezuela and Jaime Diaz from Spain, collectively known as Peacock Racing Stables, it was their most prestigious win. They have had horses in the US for less than two years and have enjoyed some success but not on this level.

Del-Valle explained, with the assistance of a translator, that having been involved with horses since he was a very small child, it was a fantastic result but one that he had hoped for as he had huge confidence in the horse.

Del-Valle is an extremely enthusiastic owner, often rising at 4am to go and watch his bargain-priced colt out of an Unbridled (the grandsire of Arrogate) dam that was purchased for only $16,000 at Keenelands as a yearling by Sano.

Gunnevera now has earnings of $1,075,200 that more than cover his purchase price and training fees but, for Del-Valle who has owned many horses in Venuezela, it sounds as if this is a passion that transcends the profitability angle.

The Fountain of Youth was pretty much a carbon copy of Gunnevera’s successful run in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot as a two-year-old on November 19 when he powered from last to first to win by exactly the same distance. Gunnevera started as the favorite and beat the Bob Baffert-trained Hot Sean after a strong pace had been set in another field of ten. Castellano described him back then as a horse that needs to come from behind.

On Saturday Castellano understandably rode him patiently again, taking a pull and sitting at the rear of the pack in the early stages and timed his winning challenge perfectly. Unlike the Holy Bull when he was ridden closer to the pace and had his momentum reduced by traffic problems at the three-eighths pole, Gunnevera was able to accelerate unencumbered by traffic issues and managed to power clear of his nine rivals in style.

Castellano was also impressed with Gunnevera’s composure in the post parade, no trainer or jockey wants to see a colt wasting energy or getting excited before the serious action starts. Castellano thought that Gunnevera handled the preliminaries with the composure of a horse more than twice his age. That has to be a positive for his chances in dealing with the hubbub around the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby Betting Update

Gunnevera’s odds for the Kentucky Derby in the online betting with the USA bookies have shortened to 12/1 and the 50 points awarded for his Fountain of Youth win have put him at the top of the points leaderboard with a total of 64. He is 11 points clear of the Dale Romans trainee, J Boys Echo (16/1), who also gained 50 points for his unexpected win in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday, March 4. The 2/5 Gotham favorite El Areeb (25/1) finished third beaten 11 lengths.

Girvin (20/1) holds third place on the leaderboard after his Risen Star win with 50 points whilst Irish War Cry (20/1) languishes in 15th place with only the 10 points awarded for his Holy Bull win. The juvenile champion and Holy Bull third, Classic Empire (20/1) has 32 points in fifth. He was recently reported to be suffering from a back issue by his trainer Mark Casse that was thought to be the result of a change in gait whilst recovering from his foot abscess.

Gunnevera could be a strong contender if there is plenty of pace but 2017 looks likely to be the most open Kentucky Derby for years.

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