"Don't change the luck."
With those words, Nerina Morales held onto Turbo Compressor instead of swapping him for a better-looking 2-year-old. As a result, she and her husband, Hernando Gutierrez, have a starter in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park Oct. 3.
It began in 2010 when Gutierrez wanted to claim a horse.
"I didn't like the horse," said Morales. "He was so mad that he called my cousin, Carlos Morales. It was the last day of the OBS (Ocala Breeders' Sales) April sale. He said, 'You need to look for a horse for me. I'm going to buy it.' "
Gutierrez and Nerina Morales live in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Carlos Morales pinhooks horses with Joe Applebaum in the name of Off the Hook. After Carlos found Turbo Compressor, a son of Halo's Image—Dixieland Event, by Wild Event, and bought him for $22,000, Gutierrez and Nerina drove to Ocala.
When the van arrived, a gorgeous horse walked off, thrilling Gutierrez with his purchase. The only problem was it wasn't his horse. Carlos next brought out Turbo Compressor, a smallish youngster who didn't have the looks or presence of the first horse.
"My husband's face changed," said Nerina. "He said, 'Oh, he's so small.' Carlos said, 'Do you want to change it? We can change it.' "
Gutierrez looked at his wife and asked her if she wanted to swap horses. She adamantly said, "No—don't change the luck."
Since then, their $22,000 purchase has earned nearly $1 million. Trainer Todd Pletcher amped up Turbo Compressor's abilities when he switched the ridgling to the turf at Gulfstream Park in March. Turbo Compressor won the June 16 Colonial Turf Cup and the July 7 United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park.
"We never thought we could win the United Nations," said Nerina, who was winning her first grade I race in this country. She and her family have won big races before in her native Venezuela.
As Turbo Compressor improved, offers to buy him began to arrive.
"Don't call me with any offers," Gutierrez told Carlos. "This horse is never going to be for sale. I want to enjoy him."
Turbo Compressor races for Gutierrez and Nerina's P and G Stable. Off the Hook has a 25% interest in him. The P and G stable name stems from the couple's nicknames—Pimpi for Nerina and Guty for Gutierrez. Gutierrez, who repairs airplane engines for a living, also rides and breeds Paso Fino horses. The couple owns a 10-acre farm near Ft. Lauderdale.
Pletcher sent Turbo Compressor to California early with assistant Michael McCarthy. The ridgling prepped for the Breeders' Cup with a good second to Slim Shadey in the Sept. 30 John Henry Turf Championship (gr. IIT) over the Santa Anita turf course.
Nerina, who came out for the John Henry with her husband, returned to California for the Breeders' Cup a couple of days ahead of Gutierrez. On the morning of Oct. 31, she stood at Pletcher's barn looking at her horse in his stall and enjoying the weather.
"This is beautiful here—I love it," she said.
If Nerina's luck stays with her and Turbo Compressor wins the Turf, she'll love it even more.