The fields for the 14 races that comprise the Breeders’ Cup World Championships begin to really come into focus in late summer and early fall.
The “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series offers the winners of specific individual races an expenses-paid starting spot for corresponding Breeders’ Cup races. On Aug. 28 at Saratoga Race Course, Gufo held off the late charge of Japan to post a victory in the $750,000, Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes to punch his ticket to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf Nov. 6 at Del Mar.
Gufo has been an extremely consistent racehorse since running third in his debut in November 2019 – he has never finished worse than third in 12 starts – and he’s emerged this year as a serious player in the turf male division.
How does Gufo stack up against the rest of the division more than two months out from the Longines Turf? The time has come for a closer look.
After running third in his debut, Gufo put together an eye-catching run with five wins and one second (by a head) in six starts from Dec. 29, 2019, through a Grade 1 win in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on Oct. 3, 2020. During that string of races, the Declaration of War colt won the Grade 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, where he established a new turf course record of 1:46.94 for 1 1/8 miles.
Gufo closed out his 3-year-old campaign with a third-place finish, beaten by a neck, in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. Both of his losses as a 3-year-old came in races won by another turf standout in Domestic Spending.
Gufo returned from a layoff of more than five months in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes May 8 at Belmont Park and closed powerfully as the 3-2 favorite to finish second by a nose to Channel Cat. He then dropped more than 17 lengths off the pace in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes June 5 on the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets undercard and had far too much ground to make up when third, beaten by four lengths by familiar rival Domestic Spending.
In his first two races as a 4-year-old, Gufo was 14 lengths off the pace after a half-mile in the Man o’ War and 17 ½ lengths back in the Manhattan, so trainer Christophe Clement equipped him with blinkers for his third race of 2021 to try to keep him more engaged early in his races.
Gufo was significantly closer to the pace in the $150,000 Grand Couturier Stakes July 5 at Belmont – last of six but only 6 ½ lengths behind front-running Tide of the Sea – and his explosive finishing speed carried him to a one-length win.
A similar scenario played out in the Sword Dancer as Gufo trailed the seven-horse field but was 6 ½ lengths off the pace after a half-mile. Again, he accelerated powerfully under Joel Rosario to take a half-length lead in the stretch and fought gamely to fend off European invader Japan and prevail by a neck.
Gufo earned a career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure and a career-top 104 Beyer Speed Figure for the win as this more-focused 4-year-old has led to improved results.
“We put the blinkers on and it helped Joel get in better position,” Clement said on Aug. 29. “It put him more in contention to run a better race.
“He came out of his race in very good shape and I was very proud of him. He looks very good this morning,” Clement added.
These last two wins by Gufo and the improvement shown with the addition of blinkers make him a strong contender for the Longines Turf. He’s consistent, fast, and getting faster.
But there are a couple of factors to consider from the contrarian’s perspective.
First, Sword Dancer runner-up Japan has not won a Group 1 race in Europe since 2019 and has posted victories in just two of his last 11 races, so he’s probably a second- or even third-tier contender from the prospective European contingent. Simply put, the top European invaders for the Breeders’ Cup very likely will be a significantly tougher bunch.
Second, there is that Domestic Spending factor hanging over Gufo. Domestic Spending has faced Gufo three times and handed him three of his five career losses. Sure, Domestic Spending lost the Mr. D Stakes (the stakes formerly known as the Arlington Million) in his most recent start, but Gufo still needs to beat him on the racecourse and has yet to do so. However, one factor that might play heavily in turning the tide in Gufo’s favor is the 1 ½-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Gufo is now 2-for-2 at 1 ½ miles and also ran very well in the 1 3/8-mile Man o’ War earlier this year, while Domestic Spending has never competed in a race longer than 1 ¼ miles and might be a bit less effective stretching out the additional quarter-mile.
While I’m optimistic that might even the scales for Gufo in the potential head-to-head matchup with Domestic Spending in the Nov. 6 Longines Turf at Del Mar, I’m always skeptical that the top U.S.-based turf runners can handle the best European horses in the grass races at the World Championships.
Gufo is already proven at 1 ½ miles, so for that purpose this pedigree section is less important. He is by promising dual hemisphere turf sire Declaration of War, sire of 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup winner Vow and Declare, a champion stayer in Australia.
A son of elite U.S. turf sire War Front, Declaration of War has some very nice runners from his first five crops, including dirt graded stakes winners Silver Prospector and Army Wife as well as 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America winner Fire At Will and turf Grade 1 winner Decorated Invader. Versatility and stamina seem to be two traits Declaration of War passes on to his progeny.
Out of the Petionville mare Floy, Gufo is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire) to three-time graded stakes winner Hogy, who won graded stakes on the grass sprinting and at one mile on turf and synthetic surfaces. Outside of Hogy and Gufo, you need to go back several generations to find stakes winners on the bottom half of this pedigree with champion Capote and French classic winner and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Exceller both half-siblings to Gufo’s fourth dam (maternal great-great grandmother), Bald Facts.