Will a strong, Kentucky Derby favourite emerge?


It has been  a convoluted winter and spring for American 3-year-olds trying their hands on the Kentucky Derby trail. With early favourite and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Classic Empire having a stutter-step start to his season, the big money stakes races have gone to a variety of sophomores, longshots galore.

The group of Kentucky Derby contenders, at the moment, is arguably a weaker set than we have seen in a decade. With races such as the Florida and Louisiana Derbys this weekend, the Wood Memorial and Blue Grass still to come, it is possible that a star will emerge.

The big gun right now is GUNNEVERA (Dialed In), the big favourite for the Florida Derby. Carrying the flag of Venezuela for his connections, the big colt with a rich, red coat and nary a discernible white marking is a powerhouse (horse?) and here is his latest workout.

He stands out in the Florida Derby and his rider is Javiar Castellano, who seeks his first Kentucky Derby win.



Gunnevera From Orphan to Outstanding Triple Crown Prospect

from Gulfstream Media
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – On Feb. 28, 2014, breeders Pam and Jim Robinson sprung into action to save the life of Unbridled Rage when the 19-year-old broodmare began to hemorrhage while delivering a healthy, leggy colt.

The daughter of Unbridled seemed to be rallying over the next few days before suddenly passing away, orphaning the colt who would go on to become Gunnevera, who will enter Saturday’s $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park as the leading candidate for this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) on the basis of qualifying points-accrued.

“She hemorrhaged and after about three days we had her stable,” said Pam Robinson, who owns and operates Brandywine Farm in Paris, Ky. with her husband, Jim. “She was doing quite well, but 10 days after foaling, she dropped dead from a heart attack. It was so unfortunate.”

The Robinsons brought in a Paint mare to nurse Gunnevera, the orphaned son of Dialed In.

“Most of those nurse mares produce so much milk, lots of good rich milk,” Robinson said. “They’re kind of like milk cows, so he got plenty of nutrition early on, that’s for sure.”

Gunnevera flourished under such abundant nourishment and extra attention.
“He was probably extra spoiled,” Robinson said. “He was always at the gate wanting to be played with – almost like a big puppy dog.”

Gunnevera was very much the colt she had envisioned him to be when she decided to breed Unbridled Rage to Dialed In.

“Dialed In, when I saw him, is a big, good-looking horse. You couldn’t ask for a better conformation horse,” said Robinson, who purchased two breeding rights to the 2011 Florida Derby winner. “The two, physically, I thought should produce a big strong horse, which they did. Gunnevera has always been a big colt, a very athletic colt.”

The Kentucky-bred colt didn’t attract much attention at the 2015 Keeneland September Sale, bringing a top bid of $16,000 from South Florida-based trainer Antonio Sano for Peacock Racing Stables.

“We were very disappointed. We thought he’d bring a lot more than that, but we’re in  the business of breeding, so we can’t just accumulate them,” Robinson said. “I think he was the second yearling going through the ring that day, and there was nobody there. Personally, if I’m trying to buy something, I take a very good look at the first horses going through the ring. Usually, the first horses and the last horses – people tend to get there late and leave early – that’s when you seem to get your best bargains, your best buys.”

Gunnevera has gone on to amass more than $1 million in purse earnings while becoming a multiple graded-stakes winner with victories in the Saratoga Special (G2), the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) and, most recently, the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream March 4.

“It’s a wonderful feeling seeing one of our babies go on to accomplish things. I also follow my horses that run in claiming races, maiden special weights and allowance races,” Robinson said. “They’re all kind of our kids. Whenever they can perform at the top of their ability, you’re always happy.”

Stephen Upchurch, the former Brandywine farm manager and longtime employee before venturing out on his own, is a co-breeder of Gunnevera.

“We gave him a third of the mare,” Robinson said.

The Robinsons were considerable more successful at the 2015 Keeneland September Sale while selling a son of Uncle Mo for $300,000. Royal Mo has gone on to capture the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita in February. They’ve also bred 2011 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Ruler On Ice, 2013 Arkansas Derby (G1) victor and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Danza, multiple graded-stakes winner and 2013 Preakness (G1) runner-up Itsmyluckyday and multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Majestic Harbor.



ONTARIO-BRED STATE OF HONOR has chance to upset Florida Derby

Manfred and Penny Conrad’s homebred colt STATE OF HONOR has been battling hard in 3-year-old stakes races this winter. The giant son of To Honor and serve from the Elusive Quality mare State Cup was 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby after setting the pace. Tapwrit was the winner that day. He was 3rd in the Sam F Davis after setting the pace – the winner that day was McCraken.

Trained by Mark Casse, State of Honor will race without the blinkers on Saturday in the 1 1/8 mile event and perhaps that can help him relax in the early stages. He has strong Beyer Figures and looks to be a major danger to Gunnevera should he handle the distance.





WILLIAM GIERKINK (third from left) celebrated not only lots of wins by his homebreds but also cheered on victories of horses owned by son Ron (far left) (and yours truly). This is Miss Christine trained by Debbie England in 1988. Michael Burns photo











The Ontario horse racing family lost a true horseman last weekend when William Gierkink, 85, passed away.

Mr. Gierkink managed Longview Farms for Jim Sabiston for several decades before purchasing his own farm and beginning a small, successful breeding and racing operation. A regular supporter for the local yearling sales, the soft-spoken Mr. Gierkink bred and sold the fleet stakes winning filly Bodust , a daughter of Bold Ruckus out of Gierkink’s good mare Sonsette Dust, a daughter of Swoon’s Son. Sonsette Dust produced the stakes calibre sprinter Night Fight and the good winner Set Destiny, who raced for Mr. Gierkink and produced many good runners such as stakes winner Barath and Wishart.

Recently, his  the $900,000 earner Moonlit Beauty, the best horse he has ever owned or bred, produced her first foal. Moonlit Beauty was created through Mr. Gierkink and his son Ron’s keen eye for a pedigree nick. The chestnut mare was produced from the Cryptoclearance mare Global Gossip,, purchased by Ron for his father, through a breeding with the Hennessy stallion Perigeee Moon. The Gierkink family has won more than 35 races with a small racing stable.

Family will receive friends at the O’Neill Funeral Home, 6324 Main Street, Stouffville, on Friday, March 31, 2017 from 7-9 p.m. A Funeral Mass will take place at St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church on Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. Private family interment. In lieu of flowers, the Gierkink family would ask that you make a donation to the “Kids First” Fund, a special fund set up by the Stouffville Minor Hockey Association to help families in need with the cost of hockey for their children. Cheques can be sent to: “Kids Fund” c/o WSMHA, PO Box 876, Stouffville, ON L4A 8A1. –



Chantal Sutherland, who is just 4 wins away from her 1000th winner, is set to return to riding at Woodbine for 2017. Don Parente will once again be her agent.

Sutherland, a 2-time Sovereign Award winning apprentice rider who began her jockey career at Woodbine, took a break from riding in 2012 before retiring completely in 2014 to pursue real estate in California. She has since returned to being a jockey and has won 17 races in the last year.

Surtherland has 4 mounts over the next 2 racing cards at Santa Anita.