Antonio Sano, trainer of Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera, said he hasn't changed his training methods since leaving his native Venezuela in 2009 and settling in South Florida.
Except for one thing.
In most South American countries, including Venezuela, horses are ridden without a saddle during their morning gallops. Why?
“It's just a tradition,” said Sano, through his son Alex, who often serves as a translator. “Here we do use a saddle to train.”
Some observers have questioned why Sano has done nothing but gallop Gunnevera slowly since his seventh-place finish at 10-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby. “That's the way I have always trained,” he said. “He gallops around the track twice, and his exercise rider weighs 150 pounds. He doesn't need to go fast.”
In hindsight, Sano was not particularly pleased with Gunnevera's final timed workout eight days before the Derby, when the Dialed In colt breezed five furlongs in 1:03 3/5. “It was too slow,” he said.
Sano may be in the national spotlight in the U.S. for the first time, but he's no rookie. In 19 years as a trainer in Venezuela, he won 3,354 races, more than anyone else. “It took 31 years for Millard Ziadie, the trainer I passed, to win 3,100 races,” he said.
Sano recently hit a U.S. milestone with his 500th victory.
He's had three other graded stakes winners in the U.S. in addition to Gunnevera, who won the Saratoga Special and Delta Jackpot as a 2-year-old. He has yet to win a Grade 1.
To do so, Sano knows Gunnevera will have to launch his rally a little earlier than usual in the Preakness, a race where the horse at the eighth pole is most often the winner.
“He made an early move when he won the Delta Jackpot,” said Alex Sano. In that $1-million race, Javier Castellano got Gunnevera into gear just before reaching the far turn of the six-furlong bullring track. Last early, he circled the field on the turn and had the lead at the top of the stretch, pulling away to win by 5 ¾ lengths.
Castellano, who is also from Venezuela, won't be on Gunnevera in the Preakness. “He had a commitment to Chad Brown (to ride Cloud Computing). I understand that. We're friends,” Antonio Sano said.
Mike Smith will ride Gunnevera on Saturday. The Hall of Famer hasn't won the Preakness since taking the 1993 edition with Prairie Bayou. He's had two seconds in the interim, with Mine That Bird in 2009 and Bodemeister in 2012.
Despite a disappointing run by Gunnevera, the Sanos were dazzled by their Kentucky Derby experience. They spoke on camera to the Paulick Report at Wednesday's Preakness post position draw.
If you haven't had a chance to get a close look at Classic Empire's troubled Run for the Roses, do yourself a favor and watch the replay (the traditional replay available at churchilldowns.com is better than the NBC Sports production).
The Pioneerof the Nile colt broke outwardly from the No. 14 post, then was clobbered a few strides out of the gate by horses veering in, forcing him to go offstride. He regrouped and raced well back early, a dozen lengths behind Always Dreaming. Leparoux moved on Classic Empire approaching the far turn, racing well off the rail, then went extremely wide into the stretch on probably the slowest part of the racetrack, while Always Dreaming was skipping along close to the rail, which riders said was the best part of the track. Classic Empire kept on coming, then was bothered again when Practical Joke drifted out, causing a chain-reaction that again slowed Classic Empire's momentum. The fact he kept to his task and passed Practical Joke in the final yards demonstrated Classic Empire's determination.
His previous race, the Arkansas Derby, came on April 15, more than two months after his 2017 debut in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. He won the Arkansas Derby by a deceivingly easy half-length and should have moved forward off that win.
Look for Classic Empire to be much closer to the early pace in the Preakness.
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