Unlike in 2018, there is much more of a spring to the step to all those associated with Dubai World Cup hopeful Gunnevera this year – including the horse himself.
The leading light of Antonio Sano's stable set off for the race 12 months ago in the richest of form only for everything to unravel as soon as he was landed in Dubai, then continued when he failed to offer much in finishing eighth behind Thunder Snow. After the race, it waas discovered that the horse had grabbed a quarter, shearing off a part of his hoof wall.
“Last year he came with a bit of colic off the plane, he had a bad night and the doctor came,” Sano's son and assistant, Alex, said. “The next stage he wasn't eating very well and he had a little hoof issue, it all went the opposite way. It wasn't our week. We knew it was going to be tough from the start we had, and regardless of that he still ran a good race.”
Sano, a dominant champion trainer in his native Venezuela, has a well-documented back story including being kidnapped, but has transferred his talents without a problem, becoming a major player on the South Florida circuit.
Under his tutelage, Gunnevera was soon back in the winning swing in allowance company last August.
“We gave him three months off on the farm to let the hoof regrow and brought him back midsummer,” Alex explained. “We took him to New York, he was second in the Woodward at Saratoga and then second in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He picked it up real quickly.”
Following a luckless sixth in the Pegasus World Cup, the five-year-old has looked in fine shape on his return to the United Arab Emirates for the US$12 million showdown.
“This year it's all going right and let's hope it stays that way,” said Alex Sano. “He shipped very well, he's adapted to the environment with no issues at all, and we're very happy to see that.”
Turning his attention to the race, he added: “He's been improving and improving, he ran one of his best races in the Breeders' Cup Classic, he went very close to winning. He's been knocking on that door for a Grade 1, which is coming very soon.
“It's not going to be easy, it's a top race and the best horses are going to be here, including last year's winner and some American shippers. Everyone's going to be fancying their chances.”
Gunnevera has already taken his cosmopolitan connections into the focus of the world stage, and there is no doubt he means an awful lot to those closest to him.
“He's very silly, a very funny horse who always likes to fool around,” Alex Sano said fondly. “You've always got to watch him. But he's one of the best horses in the barn who ever came through, he always hypes up the barn. He's just one of those who gets you up in the morning to go training, he's that exciting.”
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