As a multiple graded stakes winner, the son of Dialed In was already respected. He has earned his credibility with repeated top performances against the best of his generation.
Still, when the chestnut colt became the punch line, barreling past multiple grade 1 winner Practical Joke and galloping on to a nearly six-length victory, trainer Antonio Sano's faith was justified in the horse he adores and has developed with precision.
"I really enjoy this horse," Sano said. "He is very talented and came out very good from the race. We are going to run in the Florida Derby (G1) next and if everything goes well, we will go straight to Kentucky after that. I actually thought about going straight to the (Kentucky) Derby, but the horse is doing really well. The race is here, it’s a million dollars, and there is no reason not to run."
A racing legend in his native country of Venezuela, with 3,338 wins and hailing from a successful lineage of trainers, Sano fled his turbulent homeland after being kidnapped for 36 horrific days in 2009. Moving first to Italy, he then decided Miami was where he wanted to restart his life and career seven years ago. Now he is on the verge of living the dream as he marches toward America's greatest race with a serious player.
"Right away we knew he was good—just not sure how good," Sano explained. "Before the Saratoga Special (G2) I had (jockey) Edgard Zayas work him at Gulfstream and he told me that he was one of the best horses he had ever been on. He told me to definitely go to Saratoga, which gave me confidence. He won the race and we started thinking bigger with him. Then, when he got beat at Keeneland, I think he didn't like the track there. So at that point we decided to go to Delta and won with him there (in the Delta Downs Jackpot, G3).
"He's improving with each race. If you look at him now, it looks like the last race didn't take anything out of him. He doesn't get tired and I think, if he had a clean trip all the way around in the Holy Bull (G2), he would have been a lot closer and maybe won. He keeps trying and finishes strong."
Sano, who trains 60 horses between Gulfstream and Gulfstream Park West, has developed Gunnevera into arguably his best horse to date. Sweetening the pot, the colt has a nearly all-Venezuelan team behind him. The winner of half of his eight starts and three graded races carries the colors of Peacock Racing Stables—the entity of Venezuelans Guillermo Guerra and Solomon Del-Valle and Spaniard Jamie Diaz—and is piloted by another native of the Bolivarian republic in America's reigning top rider, Javier Castellano.
Gunnevera's success did not fall into Sano's lap. A credit to the 52-year-old's lifelong horsemanship and keen eye for placement, the veteran decided to pass on what could have been a taxing trip to California for the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Since the colt broke his maiden July 16 at third asking, Sano has spaced his races judiciously, never competing within four weeks. The result has been firsts or seconds in six of his eight starts. Additionally, the maternal grandson of Unbridled was picked out of the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2015 by Sano for only $16,000. He has now earned $1,075,200.
This is not the first time Sano has built a boon out of a bargain. One of the first American horses he acquired was Devilish Lady, whom he claimed for $16,000 at Calder Race Course during her 2-year-old season in 2010. The daughter of Sweetsouthernsaint went on to win five stakes, including the Azalea (G3), and earned $400,318.
"I have had some good horses, but Gunnevera is very exciting," Sano said. "I liked him from the beginning and loved his conformation and good looks. I also really liked Dialed In and knew he would probably be a good father. I'm very happy with him and we are blessed to be in this kind of position right now."