09/01/2005 11:00PM

Glennwood pair: 'Two who got away'

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - John Gunther's Glennwood Farm is having the kind of season Thoroughbred breeders dream about. But it hasn't come without the occasional twinge of regret.

Gunther, a Vancouver-based stockbroker, has only 20 broodmares at his 265-acre farm in Versailles, Ky. It's a small band, but it includes the dams of two talented juveniles this year, the unbeaten Hopeful winner, First Samurai, and Stevie Wonderboy, third in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship and pointed for the Sept. 7 Del Mar Futurity. Those juveniles are only two of six graded stakes performers this year that Gunther is celebrating. The others are Eye of the Tiger, Molto Vita, Bending Strings, and Two Trail Sioux. Gunther owns or has bred all of those alone or in partnership.

He doesn't own First Samurai or Stevie Wonderboy, though, and here is where the regrets come in.

"Those are the two who got away," Gunther said.

Gunther tried to sell First Samurai twice. A Giant's Causeway colt, he was set to be sold privately almost four months before the September 2004 Keeneland yearling sale.

"But the money hadn't arrived according to the sales agreement," Gunther said. "So I phoned the client and said I'd decided to keep the horse. I loved the horse. I thought he was one of the best yearlings we had ever raised on the farm."

Gunther planned to race First Samurai, a rare move for a man who generally sells most of his colts and races more fillies to put back in his broodmare band. But other horsemen who were also impressed with First Samurai predicted that the colt would bring $500,000 to $600,000 at auction, so Gunther decided to sell the colt at Keeneland September. The colt failed to reach his $385,000 reserve.

"I was standing there in the audience, and the auctioneer comes up to me and says they missed someone's bid, and did I want to sell the colt in the back office," Gunther said. "It all happened so quick, and I had started to second-guess myself, that maybe the colt wasn't as good as I had thought, so I sold him in the back office."

The $390,000 deal gave Bruce Lunsford and Lansdon Robbins ownership of the horse, who has turned out to be one of the season's most promising 2-year-olds by one of the world's most fashionable sires.

Stevie Wonderboy, a son of Stephen Got Even, also failed to reach his reserve at the 2004 September auction. Gunther and his partners Walter Zent and Tony Holmes sold a half-interest to pinhooker Robert Scanlon. Together, they sold Stevie Wonderboy for $100,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Calder sale earlier this year. Doug O'Neill now trains him for the Merv Griffin Ranch.

Does Gunther regret letting those two go? Sure, but at least he still has their half-siblings, and both are scheduled to sell at the upcoming Keeneland September sale. First Samurai's dam, Freddie Frisson, will be represented by her yearling Menifee colt. Stevie Wonderboy's dam, Heat Lightning, has a yearling Mr. Greeley filly.

The bang-up season Glennwood graduates are having traces back to keeping the focus on a small but quality operation, says Gunther, who likes to plan his mares' matings himself. The farm's manager, Barry Robinette, who joined the farm in 2001, also noted that the Glennwood philosophy of breeding for conformation and performance rather than just fashion is paying off. "No window dressing," as Robinette put it.

"He looks for something that's run," Robinette said of Gunther. "He wants mares that showed potential at the track, even if they weren't stakes-winners, but they had to be good racehorses. And when he's racing them himself, he doesn't back down from any competition. He'll run his horses pretty tough.

"I think that's a lot of the reason John's been so successful," Robinette added. "He races a lot of his own horses, then he breeds them and races their babies. And he's had a lot of winners."

Longtime business manager Leslie Miller also credits the farm's new focus on pasture management, including custom-tailored pasture analysis by Roger Allman, as another key to Glennwood's run of stakes-winners.

His broodmare band will gain several more nice prospects soon. Among the fillies and mares in Gunther's 10-horse racing string are Wildwood Flower, a Grade 2-placed stakes-winner and half-sister to Eye of the Tiger; Grade 2 winners Two Trail Sioux and Bending Strings; and Grade 3 winner Molto Vita; all but Wildwood Flower are Grade 1-placed.

As for First Samurai and Stevie Wonderboy, well, that's the way it goes.

"I gamble every day in the market, and I guess that's why I do what I do in the horse business," Gunther said. But, he added, he's sorely tempted to keep those half-siblings and race them.