Cainelli, Little’s Friendship Leads To Success With Jo Hirsch Favorite Gufo

First-time horse owner Dr. Stephen Cainelli has struck gold with multiple Grade 1-winner Gufo, the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park.

The retired Cainelli, who operates under the nom de course Otter Bend Stables, is the owner and co-breeder of Gufo. Cainelli partnered with longtime friend and thoroughbred breeder Dr. John Little in the now 4-year-old Declaration of War chestnut.

During the course of their lengthy friendship, Little, an anesthesiologist, would study pedigrees, bloodlines and conformation when not practicing medicine or playing softball with Cainelli in his current hometown of San Angelo, Texas.

Little moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2004 to establish Cave Brook Farm, where he keeps a small string of broodmares. Cainelli retired nine years later and although he was not initially interested in racing, he decided to get involved in a racehorse with his longtime friend.

“In 2013, we really started talking about it. Because I was retired, I had the freedom to go up there whenever I could,” Cainelli said. “It was just something to give me an excuse to go up there to Lexington to see him. I said to him, ‘How about we breed a horse together? That’ll give me an excuse to get involved’.”

But Cainelli said he did not want to be involved with just any horse. He wanted in on the best horse that Little could breed, settling on Gufo’s dam Floy, a Petionville broodmare whose top progeny at the time was multiple stakes-winning turf sprint veteran Hogy.

Cainelli said they initially considered breeding Floy to Bodemeister before sending her to Declaration of War, an unproven sire at that time with no offspring of racing age.

“Bodemeister was very high on the list, but because Floy had a couple miscarriages, we were turned down,” Cainelli said. “Declaration of War was our second choice, so we went with him. When he was born, John said, ‘This might be one of the best horses I’ve ever had’.”

Little was not the only one to sing praises on behalf of a young Gufo. Rey Hernandez, who broke Gufo at T.K. Stables in Lexington, saw ability in the horse at a young age as well.

“I’ve been breaking babies for a long time, and he caught my eye pretty quickly,” Hernandez said. “From Day One, he was a pretty special horse. Everything that we asked him to do, he did pretty easily. He was a very smart horse and he never misbehaved or anything like that.”

Cainelli recalled a prophetic conversation he had with Hernandez.

“He said, ‘Take care of this one, he’s your Derby horse,’” Cainelli said.

Hernandez was right. Gufo was in fact a Derby horse, just not the Kentucky Derby.

Gufo began his 2020 campaign with aplomb winning four straight races through the maiden, allowance, stakes and graded stakes ranks, securing his first graded win in the Grade 3 Kent last July at Delaware Park. His foreseen “Derby” victory came in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last October at Belmont.

Cainelli credits trainer Christophe Clement for expertly placing Gufo through a consistent career thus far, never finishing off the board in a dozen starts.

“I was told to get any of the top ten trainers, and he’ll win some races,” Cainelli said. “I chose Clement because we believed he was a turf horse. I was really impressed because Christophe only takes a limited number each year. He’s really a hands-on trainer. He has a good record. I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t hold him in high regard.”

Gufo made good showings in his first pair of starts as a 4-year-old with late closing efforts in Grade 1 turf events at Belmont when second in the Man o’ War and third in the Manhattan.

Clement then added blinkers and stretched Gufo out to 12 furlongs resulting in a win in the Grand Couturier on July 5 at Belmont before fending off multiple Group 1-winner Japan to capture the Grade 1 Resorts World Sword Dancer on August 18 at Saratoga.

Cainelli said both factors were agreed upon by Clement and Gufo’s jockey, Joel Rosario, who has been aboard for all four starts this year.

“He always told me that he thought he was a longer distance horse – a mile and a quarter mile and a half, somewhere in that range,” Cainelli said. “Between Rosario and Christophe, they both agreed he would function much better with blinkers. They knew what they were doing. He’s like a big kid. He’s always been smart and he’s a pretty good size. That’s part of the reason they put blinkers on him – he just likes to look around.”

Through a 12-7-2-3 career, Gufo has paid back dividends for Cainelli, who has achieved millionaire status with earnings of $1,138,510.

Cainelli said he never imagined having so much success with his first horse.

“I didn’t. In fact, I told my wife [Candi] that I was going to put aside a quarter million for a racehorse,” Cainelli said. “I calculated that it would take about two to three hundred thousand to breed, train, and race a horse through ages three and four. So, I put that money aside to pay expenses. But it hasn’t affected anything, and I haven’t had to dip into that at all.”

While the unanticipated financial success with Gufo has been exciting for Cainelli, he said his largest pleasure from this experience is continuing a longtime friendship with Little.

“It was really more of a fluke than anything else. It was done so we could strengthen our friendship, and it’s done just that,” Cainelli said.

The post Cainelli, Little’s Friendship Leads To Success With Jo Hirsch Favorite Gufo appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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