Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Gufo Brings Doctors Together On Ride Of Lifetime

After nearly three decades in the horse business, Dr. John Little, co-breeder of Grade 1-winning Breeders’ Cup Turf candidate Gufo, knows one thing for sure: He’s not in it for the money.

An anesthesiologist affiliated with Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, Little studies pedigrees, conformation, race records, and stallion statistics to decompress from the daily demands of medicine. He has bred two millionaire runners from his Petionville mare Floy: Gufo and his half brother Hogy, a graded stakes-winning turf sprinter.

“That’s what I do to get away from medicine,” said Little, a Texas native who as a youngster rode Quarter Horse races at bush tracks and later found success breeding Thoroughbreds on a small scale at his Central Kentucky farm. “This is my thing to distract me. It takes enough thought and I have to totally shift gears away from medicine to do this. People at the hospital ask me if it has been profitable looking back at the last 25 years. Financially, if you look at exactly the numbers…I would say no. I do medicine to make a living, and the only reason I even do horses is so I don’t have to think about it.”

Little bred Gufo, most recently winner of the G1 Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In event, on turf Aug. 28 at Saratoga, in partnership with close friend, Dr. Stephen Cainelli, who is retired from an obstetrics practice in Texas and races the Declaration of War colt as the only runner for his Otter Bend Stable.

Little and Cainelli met years ago when practicing medicine in San Angelo, Texas. Little had a farm in Stephenville, but after many vacation trips to Kentucky with his horses shifted permanently to the Bluegrass in 2004 and established Cave Brook Farm in Keene, near Lexington.

Cainelli’s formal introduction to the sport came in 2016 when he and Little decided to breed Floy in a foal-share agreement. For years, however, Cainelli had been a naysayer when Little talked horses, but he later became interested and then a fan eager to participate on the ownership level.

“We practiced medicine together and played softball together; when our third child was born he was a boy and (Cainelli) asked to be his godfather,” Little said. “He told me how stupid the horse business was for the last 30 years and finally he said about four years ago: ‘I don’t have anything fun to do right now and I need a reason to come visit you. …Surely by now you’ve got some good horses after all these years.’

“Steve’s involved in a bank that currently sells on the Dow (Jones Industrial Average); he started it,” Little continued. “He’s involved in the Washington Nationals baseball team. And I knew he wasn’t talking about a horse to try to win an allowance race at Mountaineer. He said ‘Do you have any good horses?’ So, I told him about my best horse on the farm; it was my mare that produced Hogy.”

Little called upon all his instincts and insights developed over many years researching Thoroughbreds to select young War Front stallion Declaration of War, then standing at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, and Cainelli put up the stud fee, the resulting 2017 foal was Gufo, from the stallion’s second crop.

Following the Sword Dancer, Clement indicated the colt’s next start would be the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Oct. 9 at Belmont Park, also going about 1 1/2 miles on turf.

Gufo has shown promise form the time he was a youngster. Little sent him yearling to the late Kenny Lejeune at Oak Ridge Training Center in Morriston, Florida. Lejeune developed a number of good runners, including G1 winners Divine Park, Mo Forza, and Peace Rules. He also was the regular rider of Racing Hall of Fame member and champion sprinter Precisionist.

Gufo at ten months old

At one time Lejeune rode Quarter Horses in Texas for Little’s brother and father, and Little maintained the relationship when he started breaking horses down in Florida 25 years ago.

“He had been really accurate in assessing the ones that were bad and the good ones,” said Little, who previously had sent Lejeune his homebred Schoolyard Dreams, a graded stakes-placed runner and former 2003 Preakness starter. “[Lejeune] was a big part of my whole deal.”

Lejeune died of cancer at age 60 in December 2020.

“Kenny loved [Gufo] and after about three months he said: ‘He’s my best horse. I don’t know how good, but he’s good. So [Gufo] had been there four or five months and I called Christophe Clement. Steve Cainelli is from New Jersey right on the New York City border. He’s got family in New Jersey and New York and I knew he would enjoy racing in New York. And Clement likes turf horses.”

Clement consented to train Gufo after sending his son Miguel to Florida to see the colt, then two, and get Lejeune’s assessment. He was familiar with Hogy, having previously sent runners to compete against him. After his own judgment when the colt joined his New York stable, Clement wanted to give Gufo time off to grow and mature.

“I didn’t realize how patient he was,” Little said of Clement. “I didn’t realize how appropriately caretaking of horses he was. He told me the horse was growing really fast and he would do good to have a few months off.”

At that point, Little decided Cainelli could take sole ownership of Gufo, who had yet to start. Little first suspected there could be a problem with colt that might cost him money but Cainelli reminded him of why Clement was chosen to train in the first place.

Cainelli told him, “I don’t care about the money part of this. I don’t know [much] about the horse business but the money part doesn’t matter. If you’ll be adviser to me I’ll take care of the money part.’”

Co-breeders Dr. John Little, left, with Dr. Stephen Cainelli of Otter Bend Stable

Little then mentored and advised Cainelli through his initial first steps in ownership and then took a back seat before the colt made his debut at two in November 2019. The Sword Dancer was his second top-level win following the 2020 G1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes at three. He has never failed to finish in the top three in 12 career starts, winning seven times while bankrolling $1,138,510.

Little bought Gufo’s grandam, four-time winner and $114,865-earner Risen Miss, a 6-year-old daughter of Peteski, for just $4,500 after she caught his eye at the 2003 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October mixed sale.

The mare was not pregnant and had been turned out with some cattle in Nebraska. Her first foal was Gufo’s dam, Floy, who made one start at Keeneland for Little before a torn suspensory ligament curtailed her racing career.

“She was beautiful; she was big and strong like Gufo,” Little said of Risen Miss. “Floy is a little bit smaller and more feminine.”

Little raised Gufo on his farm, “in my backyard. He was just a big good-looking colt.”

Floy has had some hard luck in her broodmare career, losing several foals after producing Hogy, a son of Offlee Wild sold by Little’s Cave Brook Farm for $16,000 at the 2010 Keeneland January Horses Of All Ages sale. His racing career spanned nine seasons, 55 starts, and a 19-13-7 record, including graded stakes wins and $1,339,782 in earnings. A fan favorite, he eventually joined Old Friends Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Ky., when retired in 2019 but a paddock accident led to the gelding’s death at age 12 in August.

Other horses Little has been connected with include Willy Beamin, who he bought for $3,000 at the 2010 Keeneland January sale then sold him later that year at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale for $16,000. He went on to win 2012 G1 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.

Little is currently excited about Floy’s homebred 3-year-old Tourist filly Sisi, who is expected to make her second start at the current Belmont Park meet. She breezed a half mile in :47.77 September 12, fifth fastest of 73 at the distance and is entered in a seven and a half furlong maiden special weight on Sept. 21.

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Floy is in foal to Hard Spun for 2022.

Little sells about three foals each year and keeps several mares, including Floy, on his farm, situated along South Elkhorn Creek in Jessamine County. His horses are nourished by well water from Cave Spring. Nearby is the historic Keene Springs Hotel, which housed many Lexingtonians fleeing cholera epidemics in the 1830s and 1840s in the hopes the area’s medicinal white sulphur spring water would fortify their health or cure their ills.

John and Laurie Little

Little has been married 31 years to his wife, Laurie, who handles all the farm business. His brother, Bill Little, also assists on the farm. The couple have three adult children: Leanne, who is chief resident of ophthalmology at Cleveland Clinic, Jennifer, who operates Centered Holistic Health studio in Lexington, and Daniel, a talented baseball player who attends Auburn University studying aerospace engineering.

Little credits his horse business for instilling a strong work ethic in his children. He said that’s the profit he’s gained in it, not financial reward.

“They know that horses don’t care if it’s Sunday or Christmas; they still have to eat and (their stalls need to be cleaned). I’ve got some hardworking kids.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Gufo Brings Doctors Together On Ride Of Lifetime appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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