Gunnevera stepped up with a terrific closing kick in Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, enhancing his Kentucky Derby profile with a 5 ¾-length, last-to-first romp. By Dialed In, the Antonio Sano-trained colt turned in a career-best performance registering his third graded stakes victory and Javier Castellano was up.
“I’m very emotional,” said Sano, a prominent trainer in the South Florida ranks who is conditioning his first serious Kentucky Derby prospect.
Winner of the Saratoga Special (G2) in August, Gunnevera failed to make an impact in fifth when receiving a class check in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland but rebounded with a 5 ¾-length tally in the Delta Jackpot (G3) in late November.
Returning in the February 4 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream, Gunnevera was forced to steady on the far turn before recording a non-threatening second to Irish War Cry. That rival was favored at even-money in the Fountain of Youth but after pressing the pace in second, Irish War Cry folded his tent on the far turn and weakened to seventh.
Owned by Peacock Racing Stables LLC, Gunnevera vaulted to the top of the Leaderboard in the Kentucky Derby qualifier, picking up 50 points to increase his total to 64. The confirmed closer passed the $1-million earnings mark, increasing his bankroll to $1,075,200 with the $235,600 payday, and his career line reads 8-4-2-0.
Off as the 4-1 third choice, Gunnervera dropped to last among 10 rivals through an opening quarter-mile in :23.43, about 15 lengths back of Three Rules, who sped forward from his inside post to show the way while being closely tracked by Irish War Cry. The pacesetter continued to reel off splits in :47.18 and 1:12.37.
Practical Joke, a multiple Grade 1-winning juvenile making his first start since a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), was forced to steady early and advanced into contention leaving the backstretch, looming a menacing threat nearing the completion of the bend. However, the 3-1 second choice proved no match for the winner as Practical Joke wound up edging Three Rules by a half-length for runner-up honors.
“I was feeling pretty good on the turn there,” said Brown, trainer of Practical Joke. “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.”
Gunnevera began picking off rivals while wide on the far turn and blew past Practical Joke and Three Rules while turning for home, drawing away through the short stretch run at the 1 1/16-mile distance. The chestnut was timed in 1:44.25.
“I took my time with him. He’s a very professional horse,” Castellano said. “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,” Castellano added. “He lost his momentum and came back again but it was too late.”
Bred in Kentucky Brandywine Farm and Stephen Upchurch, Gunnevera brought only $16,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September sale. He is out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Rage and a number of potential stamina influence can be found in the female family of the late-running specialist.
Sano said the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 1 will be Gunnevera’s next start.