Without Parole royal strike would top Justify Triple Crown says excited breeder
The man responsible for producing Saturday's Triple Crown hero Justify was still floating on cloud nine on Sunday, when he claimed that Royal Ascot success for his St James's Palace Stakes favourite Without Parole would eclipse even the thrill of his pivotal part in the story of US racing's new poster boy.
John Gunther, 72, who grew up on the prairies in Alberta, Canada, was at Belmont Park on Saturday to witness the Bob Baffert-trained Justify become the 13th Triple Crown hero, an occasion he described as amazing.
However, Gunther will soon switch his attentions to Royal Ascot, where the promising Without Parole – whom he also bred and still owns in partnership with daughter Tanya – will be on duty in the St James's Palace, for which he is the general 3-1 market leader.
Trained by John Gosden, the son of Frankel is unbeaten in three. He was forced to miss the 2,000 Guineas with a stone bruise but came back to win Sandown's Heron Stakes, which Gunther hopes will put him spot on for the most prestigious week of Flat racing in Britain.
"I was over for the Heron Stakes and I've probably never been so nervous in my life," said Gunther, who is a big fan of British racing.
"He likes fast ground and it started to rain, so I was really worried as the turf went from good to firm to good to soft.
"His class kicked in and he got the job done. We'll run him in the St James's Palace, which will be one of the highlights of my life, because I've always dreamed of having a horse run at Royal Ascot."
Gunther, who on Saturday arrives in Britain for a week's stay, added: "I think winning in that soft ground at Sandown worked out as a big advantage as that will give him that extra fitness at Ascot.
"He's lightly raced. He's had only three starts and is undefeated, so there's a lot of maturing to do yet. It looks like things are going well and if the weather is good at Ascot he should run really well on firm turf. I'm really looking forward to it."
Gunther admits the sale of Justify still gnaws at him – "every time I look at him I get a pang in my heart for selling him, but we are so proud of what he's done" – and is relieved Without Parole can still carry the colours of him and his daughter, whom he praised for the matings of Justify and Vino Rosso, who finished fourth in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
He explained: "At the yearling sale I kept saying to myself, 'Why am I selling this colt? I love this colt'.
"I had him in the sale and increased my reserve. There was a bid, but I went higher and ended up keeping him. That day he didn't sell I was really happy – it was fate and sometimes these things happen for the best."
Asked how victory at the royal meeting would compare to breeding a Triple Crown winner, Gunther replied: "It would be better. To be at Royal Ascot and win the St James's Palace Stakes would be the biggest experience of my life, believe me."
Gunther, who worked in the stockbroking industry before being bitten by the racing bug and becoming involved in breeding around 30 years ago, credits staff at his Glennwood stud in Kentucky for his fruitful 2018 haul.
Reflecting on his experience at the Belmont Stakes, he said: "It was amazing. Probably the most incredible experience we have ever had. We flew to Belmont to watch the race and went into the paddock and it was amazing.
"Once they went into the starting gate I was really nervous, my heart started pounding and the excitement was incredible.
"You dream about it. When you breed, you hope your horse wins a Grade 1 or stakes race, but to actually sweep the Triple Crown, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, I'm sure."
Gunther has a yearling half-brother to Justify by Will Take Charge and their dam, Stage Magic, has also produced a Pioneerof The Nile foal.
"We always thought Justify was very special," added Gunther. "We raised Justify and Vino Rosso in the same paddock and Justify knew he was very special. It was just the way he acted in the paddock.
"He then turned out to be such an awesome-looking yearling. You could see it in him."
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Don't miss the Racing Post Royal Ascot Guide 2018, the new 208-page book packed with all the information you need to get ready for the five-day summer spectacular. Order here or call 01933 304858