Multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Gunnevera galloped 1 ½ miles over the main track Friday morning on the eve of his return to Grade 1 competition in Saturday’s Travers.
South Florida-based trainer Antonio Sano continues to be thrilled with the condition and attitude of the chestnut Dialed In colt, who arrived in Saratoga Tuesday morning.
“I feel very happy,” Sano said. “The horse looked very good on the track today. I’m so happy with how he’s doing.
“Physically, he’s a different horse,” he added. “The time since the Preakness was very good for my horse. It changed him. He’s grown up and filled out. The last race was very good for him.”
Gunnevera has two wins from six starts this year, taking the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth March 4 and the Tangelo on August 6, both at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, in nearly identical time (1:44.25, 1:44.30). He was also third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull.
The Tangelo was Gunnevera’s first race since the Triple Crown, where he closed to be seventh in the Kentucky Derby, contested at the Travers’ 1 ¼ miles, and fifth in the Preakness May 20.
“His last race was very easy, but it was very important. The time in the Fountain of Youth was the same as the Tangelo; the difference was the last race he did it just galloping,” Sano said. “The next race is very important.”
In the Travers, Gunnevera will meet up again with fellow Triple Crown veterans Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing and Tapwrit – winners of each of the Triple Crown races – as well as Girvin, Irap, Lookin At Lee and McCraken.
Gunnevera is one of just three of the 12 Travers horses with a win over the track, springing a 9-1 upset in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special last summer in his first race outside of Florida.
“For me, the Travers is very important. For the horse, he was all year among the best 3-year-olds,” Sano said. “These are all very important horses. We hope the horse runs well and comes back well. He’s ready. We’re excited.”
With a stated philosophy of “trust the horse” and McCraken’s major training done, trainer Ian Wilkes is taking a more hands-off approach as the Whitham Thoroughbred colt readies for his bid in Saturday’s Travers.
The cool, calm and collected Australian native doesn’t plan to concern himself with the minute details of race strategy, he said, preferring instead to leave most of the decisions up to his jockey, Brian Hernandez, Jr., who has ridden the Ghostzapper colt in all of his eight career starts, and to McCraken himself.
“I’m just going to let the horse run his race,” said Wilkes. “Brian knows him, he knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses, and he just has to ride.
“I just got to a point where I got mad at myself this year with trying to read the race and read the pace and I took my horse out of his element and it cost him a race,” he continued. “I’ve gone back to letting my horse do it. He has gotten me here. If he’s good enough, he’ll make it.”
McCraken was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old, including a 1 ¼-length win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He carried his win streak into his 3-year-old seasonal debut in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in February before a minor injury pushed his next start back nearly two months.
When he made his return in the Grade 2 Blue Grass on April 8, the late-running dark bay colt raced much closer to the pace early on than usual and made a wide bid in the stretch to finish third behind Irap and Practical Joke. McCraken finished a troubled eighth in the ‘Run for the Roses,’ emerging from the race with a laceration on his hind leg.
Given time to recover, he missed the remaining Triple Crown series and came back with a 2 ¼-length victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn in June at Churchill Downs before finishing second to Girvin by a nose in the Haskell on July 30.
Wilkes added that he’s happy with the energy level of his trainee, who galloped 1 ½ miles around the main track Friday morning, and said McCraken won’t go to the track on Saturday, but will likely do more than just walk the shedrow on race day.
“I’ll probably ride him [in the] shed a little bit, just to get his adrenaline pumping, get him a little excited and then let him rest and get him ready for the afternoon,” he said.
Installed at 12-1 on the morning line, McCraken will break from post 9.
Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner Girvin continued to impress in the mornings for trainer Joe Sharp and owner Brad Grady. A three-time graded stakes winner from seven lifetime starts, the son of Tale of Ekati galloped a lap on Saratoga’s main track on Friday to acquaint himself with the surface over which he will run Saturday’s Travers. The dark bay colt has been trained over the last month at the Oklahoma training track.
Five hours later, the earner of more than $ 1.5 million in purses schooled in the paddock and appeared calm and collected throughout the process. Occasionally prancing on his toes, he was mostly fluid through the process and failed to turn a proverbial hair.
“He’s ready,” Sharp said. “I mean, if you look at him [schooling], nothing’s bothering him. I was going to put cotton in his ears, but I didn’t think he needed it. He’s the kind of horse you love to have in a race like this because he’s all business. You don’t worry about him acting up, you just have to get him ready to run.
“He’s really feeling good. You can see it,” he continued. “He’s really grown and come into himself. You can see that he knows the race is coming and he’s getting a little pumped up.”
Win, lose or draw in the Travers, the $ 130,000 Fasig-Tipton October 2015 purchase has earned a “Win and You’re In” automatic berth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, thanks to his Haskell victory at Monmouth Park. Sharp indicated that he hopes to take advantage of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series opportunity.
“That’s hopefully in the cards,” Sharp said. “I also think he’ll be a really good 4-year-old next year.”
L and N Racing’s Lookin At Lee galloped a mile on the Oklahoma training track at 6:00 a.m. Friday morning, one day before the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby runner-up contests the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga.
The son of Lookin At Lucky, whose connections hail from the state of Oklahoma, schooled with no issue on Thursday afternoon during the races and all systems are ‘go’ for the millionaire 3-year-old. Trainer Steve Asmussen was pleased with his state of affairs and with his post position in the 12-colt field.
“He’s doing very well,” Asmussen said. “[Post 8] is a great spot going a mile and a quarter at Saratoga.”
Asmussen, a multiple Breeders’ Cup winner who also owns Preakness and Belmont Stakes trophies, has won some of the top races in the country, but the Mid-Summer Derby is one of the few to elude him.
In good spirits when asked what a win by hard-trying closer would mean, Asmussen quipped, “We would build a statue of Lee in Tulsa.”
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2017 Paulick Report.