BEING a bit overlooked has become a nice way to make a living for Gunnevera. Despite winning multiple graded stakes, a third of his 15 lifetime starts and nearly US$3 million in earnings, the Solomon Del-Valle-owned 4-year-old colt rarely has gone off at low odds and now enters the $10 million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) picture as an outsider.
Such is fine with his connections, as the same branding resulted in a fine third-place finish last out in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on January 27th and a stellar runner-up effort three back in the prestigious Travers Stakes (G1). All in all, the game chestnut arguably remains the only member of his generation to show true mettle in his campaigning. He won graded stakes in the summer and late fall of his juvenile season, raced respectably in two grueling legs of the Triple Crown and competed admirably in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). On top of all that, he has commenced his 4-year-old season by finishing third behind champions Gun Runner and West Coast in the Pegasus.
“I am so proud of my horse,” said trainer Antonio Sano. “He is very well right now and I am happy with him. He worked five furlongs (1000m) in 58.3 seconds and never in his life did he look so good. It is a good moment for my horse. I know the others in the (Dubai World Cup) will be very tough and it is a strong race, (but) he is better (than ever). He is bigger and stronger; a different horse.”
Venezuelan-owned and -trained, Gunnevera has become the unofficial ‘pride of Venezuela’ without ever racing in said country and a lot of that has to do with the incredible story of his conditioner. An icon in said nation’s racing industry, with more than 3,300 wins, Sano came from a family of top Venezuelan trainers, but fled the volatile South American country after being kidnapped for 36 dreadful days in 2009. After briefly living in Italy, he made the ambitious move to Miami to ring in a new life for his family eight years ago. Training 60 horses, give or take, from his Gulfstream Park West training base, the affable and detail-oriented 53-year-old now plans to head across the world with a horse who has already brought him a world of happiness and rewarded such vivid sacrifices.
“He has done very well for me,” Sano said. “He has given a lot to my family. He has taken us to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He went to the Travers in New York and California for the Breeders’ Cup. I am glad to have the opportunity to go to Dubai. For my family, that is our one goal and we are so proud of the horse.”
The late-running type will likely have to take on an old nemesis in the 2000m event. West Coast, who has finished ahead of him in their three meetings, remains on target and worked a sharp 800m on Monday in 47.60 seconds at Santa Anita.
In their first clash, Gunnevera chased the Bob Baffert trainee home with a resolute rally in the Travers, coming up 3¼ lengths short, but multiple lengths clear of the winners of all three Triple Crown races – Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing and Tapwrit. Two months later, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Gunnevera rallied belatedly up the rail to finish in a dead-heat for fifth with 2017 Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate, 2¾ lengths astern third-placed West Coast. Last out, he was a distant third after traffic issues, 10¾ lengths behind said rival.
Still, his upbeat conditioner is looking forward to the 2000m, or about 1¼ miles, that brought his pupil much closer to the expected Dubai World Cup favourite.
“He is very good, maybe best, at the distance,” Sano said. “He relaxes and at the three-eighths-pole, he makes his run. I just hope that the trip (to Dubai from Miami) is okay for him. And the race is at night, so I hope my horse has a good race (under the lights).”
“He will leave from here the 20th with my staff and I will leave for Dubai the 25th,” he concluded.
Sano will have more than one rooting interest on the evening. Not only did he pick out Gunnevera for a bargain $16,000 from the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, but he also chose likely Dubai Golden Shaheen runner and Jorge Navarro trainee X Y Jet out of the Ocala August Sale in 2013 for $56,000.
Photo: Gunnevera (Dubai Racing Club).