By Steve Sherack
With a select broodmare band of approximately 20 head, owner/breeder John D. Gunther has enjoyed his fair share of success during his 25-plus years in the game.
The proprietor of the 350-acre Versailles, Kentucky-based Glennwood Farm has most notably bred and raised Grade I winners First Samurai (Giant’s Causeway) and Stay Thirsty (Bernardini). And, along with a pair of partners, the native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has also co-bred champion Stevie Wonderboy (Stephen Got Even).
“I enjoy the excitement of racing and also breeding,” said Gunther, a senior partner in the Canadian stock brokerage and investment banking firm Jones, Gable & Company Ltd. “I really love the breeding end of it and raising the foals. Once you’re hooked, you can’t get off the treadmill.”
After withdrawing Last Gunfighter (First Samurai) from the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the homebred has been a model of consistency on the track for Gunther, annexing a quartet of graded stakes races and bankrolling more than $1.1 million. A very respectable fifth in last year’s GI Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, Last Gunfighter takes another crack at elite company in Saturday’s GI Whitney H. at Saratoga. The 5-year-old never fired when a disappointing ninth at odds of 3-1 in the GII Suburban H. at Belmont last time July 5.
“I guess I was a bit optimistic because I always thought he was great looking since he was a weanling,” Gunther commented. “Fortunately, my number was too high for everybody else, so it worked out O.K.”
In addition to breeding the aforementioned 2005 GI Hopeful S. and GI Champagne S. hero and current Claiborne Farm stallion, Gunther also campaigned Last Gunfighter’s hard-knocking dam. Saratoga Cat (Sir Cat), a $50,000 KEENOV weanling purchase, enjoyed a solid career, posting a record of 20-5-3-3 and earning $186,153. The 15-year-old has an unraced 2-year-old filly by Street Sense; a yearling filly by Lemon Drop Kid; and produced a Blame colt earlier this year. She failed to get in foal after being covered by leading sire Tapit in 2014.
“It means a lot to me,” Gunther said of his close ties to Last Gunfighter’s pedigree. “I was going to race First Samurai and I second-guessed myself and sold him [private sale after $380,000 RNA at the 2004 Keeneland September Sale]. But to be able to breed a horse like First Samurai meant a lot to me and then along comes Last Gunfighter. It’s very special to be able to have bred him as well as his sire. Last Gunfighter means the most to me of all the good horses that I’ve bred.”
A stock broker since his early 20’s, the 68-year-old caught the racing bug by attending nearby Hastings Park at an early age. Gunther currently splits the majority of his time between Vancouver and Versailles.
“I’d go to the track every weekend and I enjoyed betting so much that I thought it would be nice to own one at some point,” Gunther explained. “I ended up buying a mare–she was not very well-bred–and I bred her. I raced the offspring and ended up winning a couple of races and that sort of got me hooked.”
Gunther added with a laugh, “It went out of control from there, I guess.”
That hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing.
Gunther has since raced standouts American Chance (Cure The Blues), MGSW & GISP, $847,977; Kimberlite Pipe (Take Me Out), MGSW, $984,568; Molto Vita (Carson City), GSW & MGISP, $576,997; Two Trail Sioux (Indian Charlie), GSW & GISP, $664,960; and Wall Street Dancer (Sovereign Dancer), MGSW & MGISP, $834,728. He has also campaigned homebreds Bending Strings (American Chance), MGSW & MGISP, $870,612; Eye of the Tiger (American Chance), MGSW & GISP, $535,679; and Take the Ribbon (Chester House), GSW & GISP, $372,102. Gunther also bred and sold this term’s GII Gazelle S. heroine and GI Kentucky Oaks runner-up My Miss Sophia (Unbridled’s Song). She brought $260,000 as a KEESEP yearling.
Ten of Gunther’s broodmares were sent to Coolmore Ireland this year and were bred to some of the most prominent stallions overseas, including Dansili (GB), Declaration of War, Fastnet Rock (Aus), Frankel (GB) and Sea the Stars (Ire).
“The European stallions are so interesting to me and I just wanted to bring some of those bloodlines back to the U.S,” he explained.
As for the task at hand with Last Gunfighter this weekend, Gunther said, “We’re drawing a line through his last race and taking our shot in the Whitney. It was just about his only start that he never really kicked in. He’s had a couple of good works since the Suburban.”
What would winning the Whitney mean to Gunther?
“Winning a Grade I with this horse would make everything that I’ve done in the past 30 years worthwhile,” Gunther concluded tongue-in-cheek.