Impressive Gunnevera states Kentucky case
El Areeb beaten at Aqueduct but star filly Unique Bella scores at Santa Anita
Gulfstream Park: Fountain of Youth Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo
The Kentucky Derby credentials of Irish War Cry were shot down in no uncertain terms as Gunnevera (Antonio Sano/Javier Castellano) came from off the pace to overwhelm a strong-looking field with a stunning six-length victory in the Fountain of Youth.
Irish War Cry, vying for Kentucky favouritism after taking his unbeaten record to three in the Holy Bull Stakes a month ago, was sent off 11-10 favourite for the $400,000 event at Gulfstream Park.
However, after chasing a brisk pace set by Three Rules, he was a spent force at the head of the stretch and finished seventh of ten behind Gunnevera, who had been nearly four lengths behind the favourite on his previous outing.
Not this time, however, as he improved from last place in the early running to circle his rivals four wide at the far turn before powering clear of dual Grade 1 winner Practical Joke, who also showed up well on his three-year-old debut.
"He's a three-year-old horse but he acts like a six-year-old – he's an old pro," said winning jockey Javier Castellano said, speaking to the Blood-Horse. "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."
Gunnevera, who also won Saratoga Special and Delta Downs Jackpot at two, stopped the clock in 1m44.25s. He was sent off just bigger than a 4-1 chance.
Trainer Antonio Sano is enjoying the experience of having a legitimate Derby contender. "For me it's the first time," he said. "I feel very happy. The last race he lost the race because he got bumped. I thought 100 per cent that he would win today."
Also on Saturday
Aqueduct: Gotham Stakes (Grade 3) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo
Another surprise result as El Areeb's winning streak was brought to an end, the 2-5 favourite folding tamely to finish only a distant tired third behind J Boys Echo (Dale Romans/Robby Albarado).
The result represented a huge turnaround in form as the 13-2 winner had finished nearly five lengths behind El Areeb when they met last month in the Withers Stakes. J Boys Echo was produced from off the pace before finishing strongly to beat Cloud Computing by three and a half lengths.
J Boys Echo will have his final Kentucky Derby prep in either the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct next month or Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes.
Santa Anita: Santa Ysabel Stakes (Grade 3) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo fillies
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed the Kentucky Oaks as the principal target for Unique Bella (Mike Smith) after the star filly pulled away in the final furlong to win by two and a quarter lengths.
Sent off 1-10 after winning her three previous starts by a cumulative 26½ lengths, Unique Bella had to work slightly harder this time as she was slowly away and was then challenged by Grade 1 winner Abel Tasman before putting that rival away in the stretch for her fourth successive victory.
“We have a very talented filly and we’d like to look at the Kentucky Oaks," said Hollendorfer. "We like to take one step at a time. We'd like to go for the Santa Anita Oaks and if we win or do well, then we'll try to go to Kentucky."
Gulfstream Park: Davona Dale Stakes (Grade 2) 1m | dirt | 3yo fillies
After a three-month layoff, Demoiselle Stakes winner Miss Sky Warrior (Kelly Breen/Paco Lopez) kicked off her three-year-old campaign with a cosy half-length success after they crawled home in the final two furlongs.