It’s time to get to know Gufo.
There’s something about a horse who comes flying down the stretch to pass the field and get up late to win the race. Silky Sullivan used this style to thrill racegoers long ago in California, and his legend lives on. I had the pleasure of seeing the great Forego whip his loyal followers into a frenzy dozens of times, and of course, more recently, there was the big mare Zenyatta, who captured the imagination of her multitude of fans with her irresistible late rush.
Gufo is not there yet, but his late kick is impressive and is quickly carrying him into the realm of America’s best turf horses. Trained by Christophe Clement, the chestnut son of Declaration of War scored his biggest win to date Saturday at Belmont Park.
The occasion was the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational, and as has become his custom, Gusto had plenty of work to do when the field of 3-year-old grass horses hit the stretch. He wasn’t terribly behind the field, but a very slow pace made his job to rally up for the win that much tougher.
The exciting victory gave Gufo a fees-paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland on Nov. 7 as part of the Challenge Series. If he goes that route next month, it will mark his first try against older horses.
Gufo is owned by Otter Bend Stable and was bred in Kentucky by John Little and Stephen Cainelli. He is out of the Petionville mare Floy, making him a half-brother to the millionaire and multiple graded stakes winner Hogy.
Saturday’s win was his first of the Grade 1 variety and his fifth win overall in seven career starts. After flying home to get up for third in his career debut last fall at Aqueduct, Gufo began to roll. He brought a four-race winning streak, which included a pair of stakes victories, to Upstate New York in August.
He was beaten that day in the $500,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational, but it was there that I began to believe that the big chestnut might be something special.
You can see why I am so excited about Gufo.
His late burst in the 1 3/16-mile race was a thing of beauty, even if it resulted in his only defeat in the last six races. Only really good horses can finish like that in a half-million-dollar route race. Then on Saturday at Belmont, he validated it with another big finish.
As far as taking the jump up in class and testing the older horses at 1 1/2 miles in the Breeders’ Cup, his trainer remained non-committal.
“I'm not sure,” Clement said. “We'll have to check with the owner and see how he comes out of it. There's also the Hollywood Derby [G1 on Nov. 28 at Del Mar] going a mile and an eighth.”
Whether he tries the Breeders’ Cup this year or not, Gufo has captured my imagination. His closing kick is a joy to watch if nothing else. I enjoyed watching him finish fast to win a series of races in Florida and then Delaware, but it was in his last two, in which he faced top horses, that I finally became a full believer.
With a closing kick that few horses will ever know, and now proven for class, let’s hope that Gufo is around to thrill fans for years to come. I already believe he is one of America’s best turf horses.