11/21/2016 10:56AM

Sparkman: Gunning for the classics

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Gunnevera, by Dialed In, wins the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot.

In 2015, Exaggerator captured both the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot on the way to 2016 victories in the Grade 1 Preakness, Santa Anita Derby, and Haskell Invitational. Last Saturday, Gunnevera completed that same double, but it is too early to speculate on whether he can emulate Exaggerator’s achievements as a 3-year-old in 2017.

The hard-working Exaggerator ran second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in between his two juvenile graded stakes victories, but Gunnevera ran only once, finishing an even, slightly disappointing fifth behind subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity.

Gunnevera’s two graded juvenile victories open something of a new front in the A.P. Indy male line’s continuing campaign to take over American racing. That campaign was initiated by A.P. Indy’s son Pulpit, whose son Tapit will lead the American sire list for the third consecutive year in 2016, with support from Pulpit’s sons Sky Mesa and Lucky Pulpit, sire of California Chrome, and A.P. Indy’s successful sons Bernardini, Congrats, Flatter, and Malibu Moon. Gunnevera’s sire, Dialed In, is, however, a son of A.P. Indy’s son Mineshaft (out of Prospector’s Delite, by Mr. Prospector), whose Horse of the Year season in 2003 helped A.P. Indy to his first leading-sire title.

Standing alongside his sire at Lane’s End, Mineshaft has been a good sire, but he has not met the standard set by A.P. Indy or his best sons. Winner of 10 of his 18 starts and 9 of 11 on dirt, Mineshaft has sired 43 stakes winners from 747 foals of racing age (5.8 percent), but he has not produced the classic winners and fast 2-year-olds that mark a stallion in the minds of breeders as a potential sire of sires.

Dialed In (out of Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat) is as close as Mineshaft has come to producing a classic winner. Bred in Kentucky by W.S. Farish, Madeleine Pickens, and Skara Glen Stables and purchased by Robert LaPenta’s Whitehorse Stables for $475,000 at the 2009 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, Dialed In won his only start at 2, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs in November, for trainer Nick Zito.

He followed up almost three months later with a comfortable 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, running the mile in 1:35.19. Second in an allowance race at 1-5 in his next start, he redeemed himself with a game victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, rallying from last to outfinish subsequent Preakness winner Shackleford by a head, with Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve third and Grade 1 winner Stay Thirsty well beaten.

Come-from-behind horses tend to get shuffled too far back in the big field for the Kentucky Derby, and Dialed In was last – about 20 lengths behind – after a half-mile at Churchill Downs, but he rallied in the stretch to finish eighth, about eight lengths behind Animal Kingdom. He ran much better in the Preakness, rallying again to finish fourth, beaten about five lengths by Shackleford. Dialed In ran only once more, finishing fourth in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park as a 4-year-old.

Dialed In’s best days were mostly forgotten by the time he retired to Darby Dan Farm for the 2013 breeding season, but his first crop has shone a spotlight on his prospects. His 16 first-crop 2-year-old winners also include stakes winner Augusta Queen, by Forestry, and Gunnevera’s Delta Jackpot victory pushed Dialed In to the top of the freshman sire list, ahead of Union Rags and Gemologist.

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Gunnevera is the 13th and final foal produced by the unplaced Unbridled mare Unbridled Rage, whose first foal, Minstrel Queen, by Cherokee Run, placed in stakes in Puerto Rico and has produced two stakes-quality horses there. Gunnevera’s second dam, Suite, by Graustark, placed in two minor stakes, but did not produce any black-type horses.

Suite was the only black-type horse produced by her dam, Minstrel Princess, by The Minstrel, a half-sister to good stakes winner Lucy’s Axe, by The Axe II. Suite’s half-sister Devaluation, by Conquistador Cielo, is dam of Canadian champion Van Lear Rose, by Pulpit’s son Stroll, who is granddam of stakes winner Bear’s Gem, by Peaks and Valleys. The family arrived in America in the 1950s when Sister Grey, by Dante, dam of the high-class stayer Grey of Falloden, by Alycidon, was imported.

Unbridled Rage’s unimpressive produce record and female line are all too typical of the mares that a horse with a record like Dialed In can initially attract, but his first-crop success is bound to attract breeders to Darby Dan. They will find that he is an exceptionally beautiful horse with all the quality that so distinguishes the A.P. Indy male line.

There are better days ahead for Dialed In.