Recruiting Ready is going to have nightmares about opening up a big lead in the stretch, only to be caught in the final strides. After getting mugged on the line by highly regarded Classic Empire in the July 2 Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs, the juvenile had an eerily similar experience in Sunday’s $196,000 Saratoga Special (G2). Playing the Classic Empire role at Saratoga was Gunnevera, a Florida shipper who went from last to first to furnish the 9-1 upset.

For Recruiting Ready and his fans, however, the Saratoga Special was an even tougher beat. The 2-5 favorite was disqualified from second and placed fourth for interfering with two rivals entering the far turn. So much for hopes that an equipment change (removing blinkers) and a rider switch (to Irad Ortiz Jr.) would produce a better result than at Churchill.

Gunnevera, on the other hand, was quite happy with his change of scenery. Trained by Antonio Sano for Peacock Racing Stable, the chestnut colt has been closing well at Gulfstream Park. But the added ground, and the Spa surface, were just what he needed to deliver his best effort – and thereby become the first graded winner for freshman sire Dialed In.

The only deep closer in a short field crammed with speed, Gunnevera was given the perfect waiting ride by Javier Castellano. He in effect told his four rivals, “You go on ahead, I’ll catch you later.” And he did.

The rail-drawn longshot Get Lit N Get Wild dashed to a narrow lead through an opening quarter in :21.69, with Sonic Mule, Tip Tap Tapizar, and the wide-traveling Recruiting Ready all in the early fray.

 As Recruiting Ready advanced at the three-eighths pole, he bumped (chart comment aptly describes it as “clobbered”) Tip Tap Tapizar so hard as to turn him into an equine pinball. Tip Tap Tapizar, who then collided with Sonic Mule, was fortunate to keep his feet and not go down when bounced around in the body-slam. Sonic Mule was likewise bothered in the melee and dropped back thereafter.

Recruiting Ready went on blissfully unconcerned by the unpleasantness, striking the front at the half in :45.04 and spurting clear at the head of the lane. For most of the stretch, he appeared well on his way to victory, perhaps not thinking it could ever slip through his grasp.

Meanwhile, Gunnevera was finishing purposefully for Castellano. At first, his gaining ground could have been interpreted as simply passing the trio of exhausted pace factors. But by midstretch, Gunnevera’s rally became increasingly good-looking. He was really motoring, and even if he couldn’t get there in time, he was shaping up as one to follow as the distances increase.

The farther they went, however, the stronger Gunnevera got, and the more vulnerable Recruiting Ready became. This observer certainly had a palpable sense of déjà vu as Gunnevera ran down the wilting Recruiting Ready and won going away by a length. By completing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.00, Gunnevera rewarded his loyalists with a $20.40 win mutuels and gave Castellano his fourth winner on the card.

Tip Tap Tapizar crossed the wire 14 lengths adrift in third, and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. promptly claimed foul against Ortiz Jr. on Recruiting Ready. The stewards, who posted the inquiry sign themselves, made the right call to demote the favorite. Tip Tap Tapizar was thus elevated to second, and Sonic Mule promoted to third. With Recruiting Ready officially off the board, the show payouts were healthy ($10.20 for Gunnevera, $11 for Tip Tap Tapizar and $5.40 for the 2-1 Sonic Mule). The trailing Get Lit N Get Wild was through after a half.

Gunnevera has now won both of his starts since getting away from unbeaten Floridian Three Rules. Second to Three Rules in their mutual debut sprinting five furlongs in the slop on June 10, Gunnevera was a troubled fourth to the same rival in the July 2 Birdonthewire at 5 1/2 furlongs. He came right back to break his maiden at the same distance July 16, and his Saratoga splash improved his record to 4-2-1-0, $156,000.

Bred by Brandywine Farm and Stephen Upchurch in Kentucky, Gunnevera was a bargain buy for $16,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He’s got no shortage of stamina influences on his dam’s side, being out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Rage. His next two dams are by Graustark and The Minstrel, respectively.

Quotes from Saratoga

Winning trainer Antonio Sano on Gunnevera: “I liked the race but I told (Javier) Castellano, ‘he’s slow but the last three furlongs are strong.’ I liked this horse at a longer distance. We’ll see you September 5 here (for the $350,000 Hopeful [G1]).”

“He just needed more distance. It was a good job from Castellano.”

Winning jockey Javier Castellano on Gunnevera: “My horse is a really good horse. We came from behind, in the clear and finished really well. I think he had a really good setup today and everything went the right way. 

“Everything worked out great, we had a perfect trip. Long term, he is going to be a really nice horse.”

On his four-win Sunday: “It’s amazing. It’s a really tough and competitive game. There are a lot of great riders here. It’s a tough colony and as you can see the standings are all pretty close in numbers. Today was a great day."

Horacio DePaz, trainer of beaten favorite Recruiting Ready: “He just said he idled a bit there at the end and backed off the bit. It seems like he likes to run better when he’s on the bit. It’s just a little immaturity. He thinks he has it done and then he backs off. He always gets run down. He looked pretty comfortable, and that horse was flying there at the end. That’s a pretty nice little horse to run him down.”

On disqualification from second to fourth: “Irad (Ortiz Jr.) told me when the other horse (Tip Tap Tapizar) switched leads he came out a little bit and bumped off of him and went in. I’m not sure. He said he didn’t come over. He held his ground.”

 

Photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography