(Gunnevera takes the Churchill Downs track on a morning before the 2017 Kentucky Derby / All Photos by Holly M. Smith)
The Spring of 2017 was the best of times for trainer Antonio Sano and his talented 3YO colt Gunnevera. The best of times.
The trainer had managed to escape capture from kidnappers in Venezuela — for the second time, mind you — and was back in the United States and doing what he loves to do most — train race horses.
The horse had managed to emerge as a prominent contender for the Kentucky Derby, after winning the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and after running third to eventual Derby winner Always Dreaming in the G1 Florida Derby.
Both man and horse suddenly found themselves in Louisville, KY., and right in the mix of a mass of reporters; a mass of horses readying for the biggest race of their lives; a mass of humanity; and mass chaos and hysteria.
It was the best of times. And, it seemed as if both man and horse were thriving.
Freedom of life. Freedom to run. Freedom. And, it seemed as if both man and horse were always smiling; always dreaming.
On Derby Day, as things would have it, Gunnevera and Sano did not have the best of times in their biggest race. The horse had serious traffic issues throughout, and never, truly, got a chance to unleash his run. The man had a serious disappointment, as he watched how things unfolded.
On that day, Gunnevera’s old nemesis — Always Dreaming — was the one dreaming and winning at the end of a wet and muddy day.
Two weeks later, Gunnevera ran 5th in the G1 Preakness Stakes. Yet, three months later, he won a Stakes event at Gulfstream Park, again.
Now, at the age of 6, Gunnevera is still in training and working his way back to you. Since being returned to serious training on Feb. 22, he has gotten five morning breezes. On March 21, he worked 5 furlongs in a deliberate 1:04.
Hopefully, the horse and man will make it back to the winner’s circle again.
Hopefully, they will catch the eye, the lightning in a bottle — one more time.
Hopefully, the horse and man will have more times that they are the best; and it will be the “best of times” again.
Here’s a look at Gunnevera from the eyes and lens of Holly M. Smith:
(Gunnevera gets ready to go graze on the backside of Churchill Downs)
(Time for a pose and a photo opportunity)
(Gunnevera schools before the 2017 Kentucky Derby)
(The press surrounds Gunnevera’s trainer, Antonio Sano, for a Derby interview)
(Early morning time)
(“Can I smell you, Miss Holly?”)