By winning the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) last weekend, J P's Gusto established himself as the top West Coast-based juvenile and is the only 2-year-old with three graded stakes wins so far. With his pedigree (Successful Appeal--Call Her Magic, by Caller I. D.) more geared for sprinting or middle distances than classic distances, his prospects of being a Triple Crown contender in 2011 are not especially bright.
But he is a legitimate Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) contender in November, especially if he wins his next start--the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) on Oct. 2 at Hollywood Park.
His trainer, David Hofmans, who has three Breeders' Cup wins to his credit (Desert Code, Adoration, and Alphabet Soup), took a few minutes on Friday to talk about his emerging star. Despite his pedigree, Hofmans is confident his horse will be adept at going two turns.
JS: How is he doing since the Futurity?
DH: He's doing terrific. He came out of the race well and he's up at Hollywood Park getting ready for the Norfolk.
JS: I'm sure you already knew he was a special horse before the Futurity, but did he show you something even more in that race?
DH: He sure did. He's a young horse and is still just developing. But he showed that he can rate and has the potential to go any distance. Patrick (Venezuela) was very pleased with him, especially the way he relaxed and waited for his cue.
JS: I read where you said he is a very smart horse, which is something that probably you either have or you don't?
DH: That's right. You can't teach that. Horses are like humans; some are smarter than others. Gusto is tough and on his toes; he knows he's special, but he also has the ability to pay attention to the rider, which is a sign of an intelligent horse.
JS: He was bought for only $52,000 at the Keeneland yearling sale. Did you have a hand at picking him out?
DH: No. John O'Hara and Stever Bajer picked him out. They buy all the horses for the doctor (owner Dr. John Waken). They've bought several good horses for him. Harissa is one of them. She just won up at Monmouth. They have a very good eye.
JS: Where was he broke?
DH: He was broke in Hemet, California and came to me at the beginning of the year.
JS: Did you know he was something special from the start?
DH: Right away. He broke horribly in his maiden race (sixth in May 9 debut at Hollywood) and it was way too short for him (4 1/2 furlongs). That's why I put him right into the stakes race (William Proctor Memorial on May 31 where he won by 4 1/2 lengths).
JS: You mentioned that he was rateable. He showed that ability in the Hollywood Juvenile too.
DH: Yeah, we didn't plan to have him up near the lead the other day (in the Futurity), but he broke so sharply and only one other horse went with him. He was on the inside, which is the worst place to be with a 2-year-old. But he's so intelligent he was able to reserve himself and not run all out. Once he got by the other horse he put his ears up and was gone.
JS: Pedigree-wise he isn't a horse that would seem to be able to go long. But you seem fairly confident that he will.
DH: I do, but who knows. His next race will tell us. Its two turns at a mile and a sixteenth. I'll train him around the far turn to let him know he can relax around there. Distance is mostly about attitude though. I think he has a chance to be a good horse at a mile and a quarter.
JS: As long as you've been around I guess you've seen many horses that have outrun their pedigree?
DH: Oh yeah. Desert Code (Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner from 2008) won a grade III for us going long because he was smart. And I've seen it go both ways. Greg's Gold (a millionaire and grade I winner) was the opposite. He had the confidence, attitude and pedigree of a grass route horse and you would never think he should be able to sprint. But he turned out to be one of the best sprinters in the country and he couldn't route! So what do I know?
JS: Can you compare Gusto to any other top juvenile you've had?
DH: Yeah, he reminds me of General Meeting (second to Best Pal in 1990 Hollywood Futurity) a lot. Both were intelligent and fast. He's not like (2001 Blue Grass Stakes winner) Millennium Wind, who was more of a long-striding horse.
JS: Obviously you want to get through the Norfolk first, but if he runs well I'm assuming the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is next? If so, do you have any reservations about running him on dirt for the first time?
DH: Not at all. My experience is that these horses take off when they move from synthetic to dirt. I would take him over (to Churchill Downs) for a breeze before the race, but if he runs well in the Norfolk the Breeders' Cup is the plan.