Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: The Phone Call That Won A Breeders’ Cup Race

All trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero wanted was for his colt to be given a fair chance in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He told jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. not to fight the 3-year-old Spun to Run, a relative longshot at 9-1 odds on Saturday.

Ortiz listened to the instructions, and for the second race in a row the son of Hard Spun went straight to the lead. 

“I saw Irad warming up really good, and I said, ‘Get him out of there and let him run,’” Guerrero relayed. “If you let him get out there a length or two or even like second, but just let him run, he will finish. As long as you don’t fight him and let him do his thing, he’ll just keep going. He could keep going another eighth of a mile and he didn’t have a problem with it.”

Skipping clear over the deep Santa Anita track, Spun to Run did exactly that. The colt kept running all the way through the wire, fending off a late bid from Omaha Beach to win by 2 ¾ lengths. His effort earned a second triple-digit Beyer figure in a row: a 109 in the Breeders’ Cup, preceded by a 110 in his final prep, a listed stakes race at Parx.

The performances backed up Spun to Run’s first real hint at his ability, when he ran third in the G1 Haskell off an allowance win at Parx. In his next out, the colt won the G3 Smarty Jones by a head over multiple graded stakes winner Gray Magician. He was improving.

Guerrero was disappointed by the ride Spun to Run got in his next start, when the colt finished fifth in the G1 Pennsylvania Derby.

“I know the horse has a lot of talent,” the trainer explained. “Unfortunately, all the riders in these races, the (Pennsylvania) Derby, went too slow, and my horse got pretty much — he got choked. So I was really upset because I know what I have, and it didn’t happen.”

Still, the effort wasn’t entirely wasted: Jockey Paco Lopez gave Guerrero some helpful insight after the race.

“Paco Lopez told me he thinks he was a mile horse,” Guerrero said. “And I asked him, ‘Why is he a miler horse?’ He says, ‘because you can break running and finish running with him.’ And my gut feeling, I always tell the same thing, but this horse, he’s very fast and he can finish fast.”

The win took Spun to Run’s career earnings over $1 million and was Guerrero’s first Grade 1 win as a trainer. 

“We’ve been through hard times before, and I just thank God has given this to me because me and my wife and my kids, few years ago we went through a very hard time, because we were winning a lot of races and people didn’t understand,” Guerrero explained. “So that brought me a lot of problems.

“But thank God we fought. We came back. And Bob (Donaldson, owner) was great to getting me this horse.”

For owner Bob Donaldson, it was a chance phone call and a $64,000 purchase price that brought him and Guerrero to the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle.

Donaldson called Guerrero one afternoon to ask about claiming a horse in the fourth race that day, but Guerrero had taken a trip to the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old in training sale to learn more about buying young horses. 

“He said, ‘Buy me a horse,’” Guerrero recalled. “I’m like, ‘What?’ I wasn’t training at that time for him. So he says, ‘Buy me a horse.’ I go, ‘Bob, I don’t even train for you.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. I want a horse.’”

“I knew that he was doing well at Parx,” Donaldson explained. “And I know that Carlos can read a horse and really can get inside their head, and his team is really such an added plus.”

Donaldson was initially interested in a filly, but she’d already sold. Then the owner picked out the page of a colt by Hard Spun out of the stakes-winning Grand Slam mare Yawkey Way. The colt was just getting ready to come up to the back ring but had worked an eighth in 10 1/5 seconds and his extended family included G1 winners Awesome Humor and Competitive Edge.

“I said, ‘Bob, I didn’t do any work on this horse, like check him, breathing him, nothing, scope, nothing,’” Guerrero said. “He said, ‘I don’t care. You have a good eye. I know you’ll figure it out.’

“So he stayed on the phone. He said, ‘When the horse comes in, let me know what you see.’ And I go, ‘Okay.’ I’m on the phone and he comes walking in, and I go, ‘Wow, Bob, he’s a good-looking’ — and I said — I don’t want to say what I said, but he goes, ‘Buy him, buy him.’”

Guerrero bid, and landed the half-brother to a restricted stakes winner for $64,000. 

“So on the way back to the barn, which is way in back to check the horse, I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m getting,’” said the trainer. “But they brought the horse out, and the guy who sold it, he said, ‘You stole this horse.’ I go, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You stole this horse.’ I said, ‘I didn’t even check him or nothing.’ He says, ‘I’m telling you, you stole this horse.’ And I think he was right.”

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