Gunnevera winning The Tangelo Stakes August 6, 2017. Copyrighted photo by Leslie Martin
By Jim Freer
It’s on to Saratoga and the Travers Stakes (Grade 1) for Gunnevera, and jockey Edgard Zayas will be going with the three-time graded stakes-winning colt.
Since June, trainer Antonio Sano has had the $1.25 million Travers as the target race for his 3-year-old star Gunnevera. The 1¼ mile Travers will be run Aug. 26 at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
On Sunday, in the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle, Sano told reporters that he has added the South Florida-based Zayas to his Travers plan.
Just minutes earlier, Zayas rode Gunnevera to a workman-like victory in the $100,000 Tangelo Stakes.
With Zayas riding him for the first time in a race, Gunnevera took the lead entering the final turn and pulled away to win by five lengths over Front Loaded. Gunnevera won in 1:44.30 on the tack listed as fast. He earned an Equibase Speed Figure of 93, which is modest for a stakes race.
Zayas has been on board Gunnevera for bullet workouts on several recent Saturday mornings at Gulfstream Park West (Calder), where Sano’s horses are stabled.
“He knows the horse,” Sano said.
Sano complimented Zayas for his Tangelo ride on Gunnevera, who has a come-from-behind style.
After a slow half mile of 50.96, Gunnevera was fourth by two lengths behind Arrecife.
But Sano said that Zayas “let him (Gunnevera) run his race,” rather than rushing him.
The result was a victory with Zayas hand riding Gunnevera down the stretch. Arrecife finished last in the five-horse field.
“He was much the best,” Zayas said. “I was trying to stay out of trouble so I put him back on the outside and made one run. He did it pretty easy. Once he got to the stretch he fired up.”
Gunnevera was the 1-5 favorite and Front Loaded was the 7-2 second betting choice.
The victory in the Tangelo was the fifth in 12 career starts for Gunnevera, a Kentucky-bred son of Dialed In.
The Tangelo was the first race for Gunnevera since May 20 when he finished fifth in the Preakness (Grade 1), and bled near the end of the race.
Gulfstream carded the Tangelo to give Sano a chance to carry out his plan for a freshened Gunnevera to have a race on his home track prior to the Travers.
At approximately 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, it was mission accomplished.
“My horse is back 100 percent,” Sano said. “The race was very easy for him today. He’s gained weight. He’s very happy. And now we’ll go to the Travers.”
The alternatives to the “made for Gunnevera” Tangelo were the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy (Grade 2).at Saratoga on July 29 and the 1 1/8-mile Haskell (Grade 1) at Monmouth Park on July 30.
Gunnevera, the winner of this year’s Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) at Gulfstream, would have been a contender in the Haskell or Jim Dandy.
But by keeping Gunnevera at home, Sano was able to get a confidence-boosting win while training on the deep surface at Calder.
This year has turned into one where there are numerous very good 3-year-olds, but no dominating star.
The depth of this year’s crop will be on display in the Travers which almost certainly will have ten or more entrants.
Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, Irish War Cry, Classic Empire and Practical Joke are among possible Travers starters that have raced at least once at Gulfstream.
But unless we are missing something, Gunnevera is the only likely Travers starter whose home stable is in South Florida.
The soft-spoken Sano has a reminder for rival trainers.
“He (Gunnevera) likes Saratoga,” Sano said.
In his only race at Saratoga, last Aug. 14, Gunnevera won the 6 ½ furlong Saratoga Special (Grade 2). He rallied from six lengths after a half mile and won by a length.
Sano expects to ship Gunnevera to Saratoga on or around Aug. 18.
Sticking with Zayas
Javier Castellano, Mike Smith and Jesus Rios were the riders on Gunnevera in his starts prior to the Tangelo.
Sano would no doubt have his choice of several prominent full-time Saratoga jockeys. But he is staying with Zayas because of the familiarity factor noted above.
Zayas, a 24-year-old native of Puerto Rico, competes with most of those jockeys each winter in the Gulfstream Park championship meet. In the 2016-2017 meet he tied for 11th place in wins with 32.
Through Sunday, he has 32 wins and is in second place behind Tyler Gaffalione who has 39. The 57-day meet ends Sept. 30.
The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association supported adding a $25,000 enhancement for Florida-breds in The Tangelo in furtherance of the FHBPA/Gulfstream Summer Stakes Series initiative this year.
Florida-bred Front Loaded earned an additional $5,000 for his second-place finish, and Florida-bred Manolete earned an additional $2,500 for his third-place finish.
Ownership of Gunnevera
Until Sunday, Gunnevera raced under the ownership name Peacock Racing Stable.
Recently, Salomon Del Valle bought out the other two partners. However, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering has not yet completed its licensing of new entity Salomon Del Valle Racing.
So, on Sunday the ownership of Gunnevera was listed as Sano Racing Stables, which owns several horses trained by Sano.
Del Valle and Sano are natives of Venezuela and are long-time friends.