11/04/2009 12:00AM

Negligee rewards years of trust, loyalty

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer John Terranova (above) has trained for the Gatsas family since 2000. On Friday, they will start Alcibiades winner Negligee in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

In an era when impetuous owners change trainers like they change socks, the decade-long association between the Gatsas family and the husband-and-wife trainer team of John and Tonja Terranova has endured. Through triumph and tragedy, the Gatsas-Terranova relationship has strengthened personally and professionally.

It could hit an apex Friday afternoon when the Terranovas saddle Negligee in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. Negligee is owned by Sovereign Stable, an ownership partnership group headed by Matt Gatsas, his sister Amanda and their father, Mike. Sovereign purchased Negligee in August after she finished second to a Terranova-trained horse in a stakes race at Woodbine. In her first start for her new connections, Negligee won the Alcibiades at Keeneland, giving Sovereign its first Grade 1, Terranova his second.

"Just to get over that hump and get that Grade 1 for them, it's well deserved and hopefully there's many more to come," Terranova, 39, said.

In 2000, the Gatsas family - who at the time raced under the moniker Gatsas Thoroughbreds - had their horses based in New England with trainer Charlie Assimakopoulos. It was evident to Assimakopoulos that the Gatsases had horses that belonged in New York, but he was getting older and didn't want to travel or relocate.

Mike and Matt Gatsas sought recommendations for New York trainers to interview and, after a visit to Belmont Park in June 2000, quickly settled on Terranova, who was 29 at the time and had fewer than 20 horses. They had never heard of Terranova until they interviewed him.

"He seemed like a good, honest kid, hard-working, his barn was very clean and neat, and from what we saw it looked like he knew what he was doing," said Matt Gatsas, 32, who serves as Sovereign's president. "When we were searching for a trainer we wanted somebody young and energetic. We wanted personal attention. We were thinking of doing a partnership and we knew how important that was in regards to getting owners. We enjoyed [being at] the barn so much, we thought other owners would enjoy it themselves."

Among the first dozen horses the Gatsases gave Terranova were Gander and Shadow Caster. In a span of six days in July 2000, Gander won the Evan Shipman for New York-breds at Belmont and Shadow Caster won an allowance race at Saratoga. Later that meet, Shadow Caster won the Grade 2 Forego.

"The good news is that's how Sovereign started," Matt Gatsas said. "We were bringing people around, a lot of friends of the family coming around saying we'd love to own a piece of the next one - they thought it was easy. The problem was we knew better. Luckily, when we started Sovereign, it wasn't going to be family and friends."

Sovereign, which has 150 individual owners, sells shares in horses and buys whatever shares go unsold. In Negligee, all the shares are sold, thus the Gatsas family does not own any shares in her. There are approximately 20 owners involved in Negligee, led by James Dolan, Dennis Canetty, and Tom O'Connor.

Sovereign certainly hit a home run by winning a Grade 1 with a horse making her first start for the outfit and then getting to the Breeders' Cup. The game is not that simple as the Gatsas family knows all too well.

During a seven-month span in the 2007, Gatsas/Sovereign lost three very talented horses due to illness or injury. In early June, on a day he was to start as a top-three choice in the Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont, the stakes-winning sprinter Sports Town was scratched due to a staph infection that led to laminitis and ultimately his death. That November, the promising 2-year-old Southern Gale, a $150,000 auction purchase who had run second in his debut, developed a fever, foundered, and died. On Dec. 30, Who What Win, a multiple New York-bred stakes winner, broke down during the Alex M. Robb Handicap and had to be euthanized.

While some owners may have blamed their trainers and thought about making a change, the Gatsases' faith in Terranova never wavered.

"Never for one minute did I think it was about the Terranovas," said Mike Gatsas, 57. "It was more, 'Is this game really telling me something?' I knew it wasn't telling me" to leave the Terranovas.

"That's one of the great things with them, they are without a doubt as loyal and as good of a group of owners as you could ask for," Terranova said. "They've been great, they helped us develop and they've developed with us. It's nice to have that because it's such a tricky game. I see so many owners who change barns all the time."

On Aug. 15, the Terranovas and Gatsases were sitting in separate box seats at Saratoga to watch Franny Freud, a New York-bred trained by Terranova for Paul Pompa run in the $156,000 Ontario Debutante at Woodbine. She won by a half-length over Negligee, a filly running back just three weeks after winning her debut for $62,500 claiming. In the midst of the celebration, both John Terranova and Matt Gatsas realized what an impressive race Negligee ran. Two weeks later, in a deal brokered by agent Nick Sallusto, Negligee was in the barn.

Negligee was entered in the Miss Grillo, a Grade 3, $150,000 turf stakes at Belmont on Oct. 4. But when the race was rained off the turf, Terranova decided to scratch and try the Alcibiades. In the race, Negligee split horses under Rajiv Maragh in the stretch and ran past the previously undefeated She Be Wild to get the victory.

"I love the way she ran that race," Terranova said. "Rajiv said he never really set her down till just before the eighth pole when he asked her to run and go get that filly.

"After galloping out he was trying to grab a hold of her and pull her up a little. She wanted to do more. She was just getting a full head of steam at the wire."

Sovereign and Terranova hope they are just getting a full head of steam as well. The stable has approximately 15 horses that include promising juvenile prospects Rein King, Make History, and Better Together.

In addition to the professional relationship, the Gatsas and Terranova families have become close. Since 2000, the Terranovas have had two children. Matt Gatsas has gotten married and has a child. Amanda Gatsas is married and is now Amanda Casey and is six months pregnant.

John Terranova said the only real vacation he and his wife have taken the last decade was to attend Amanda's wedding in the Bahamas.

"We developed together and it's been great," Terranova said. "They're great family people and so are we, and we all kind of just click, not just on professional level, but on a personal level too."



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