Has any breeder had a better fortnight than John Gunther?
On June 9, he was in the box seats at Belmont Park with his daughter Tanya and lifelong friend Steve Irwin watching Justify win the Triple Crown. Ten days later, in tails and top hat, Gunther was across the Atlantic at Royal Ascot to see Without Parole, whom he not only bred but owns, take the St. James’s Palace Stakes (G1) and receive the trophy from the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Gunther is a self-made man, a university dropout and former longshoreman who went broke on a stock deal and subsequently earned his broker’s license so he could tip the scales back in his favor. He has never employed a bloodstock agent to buy a horse nor a consignor to sell one. After 40 years of studying past performances and pedigrees, and an equal amount of time betting races, Gunther doesn’t need advice. He acts on instinct, and his instincts are pretty darn good.
Fifteen years ago Gunther eyed a Storm Bird mare at Keeneland November and purchased Marozia for $50,000. Sent to Lemon Drop Kid, Marozia produced Without You Babe, out of whom Gunther has bred grade/group 1 winners Tamarkuz and Without Parole. Gunther has been attending Royal Ascot for two decades and fell in love with the undefeated superstar Frankel during those visits. He was granted permission by Juddmonte Farms for Without You Babe to visit Frankel’s court, resulting in Without Parole and Gunther’s journey to the Royal Ascot winner’s circle this week.
Gunther loves to laugh at the foibles of trying to succeed in an industry where setbacks and disasters lurk around every corner. He knows that a hardy portion of luck is a prerequisite for any victories achieved where horses are concerned. The mistakes he makes are his own while he is happy to share his successes with Tanya, whose analytical bent serves as somewhat of a counterbalance to her father’s shoot-from-the-hip philosophy.
Two years ago at Gunther’s Glenn-wood Farm, Justify and Without Parole roamed the paddocks with Vino Rosso, eventual winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) and a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (both G1) starter. And along with them in the same class were On The Warpath (by Declaration of War), who became a two-time winner for Gunther before being sold to Sheikh Mohammed; and Jaylan (by Scat Daddy), a 2018 winner at Deauville for Al Shaqab Racing. All this from a broodmare band of 20.
Owning Glennwood and a farm outside Vancouver that serves as his home base doesn’t come cheaply, and while understanding that he must sell bloodstock to keep the lights on, you get the sense Gunther doesn’t particularly enjoy doing so.
“It drove me crazy to sell (eventual grade 1 winner) First Samurai,” he said, “and you regret selling, but at least you have the family and can benefit down the road when one excels.”
So even though they were spectacular-looking yearlings, Justify, Without Parole, and Vino Rosso all went through sale rings, albeit with high reserves. Gunther parted with Justify for $500,000 and Vino Rosso for $410,000, but held on to Without Parole when his lofty reserve narrowly held sway at Tattersalls. Those “down-the-road benefits” will be available to Gunther this year should he decide to sell Stage Magic’s (dam of Justify) yearling colt by Will Take Charge, Without You Babe’s yearling filly by Oasis Dream, or Mythical Bride’s (dam of Vino Rosso) yearling colt by Pioneerof the Nile. Gunther will need all his financial chops to tally up the proceeds from these potential sales.
There is no better advertisement for the sport and business of horse racing than when good things happen to good people. For a down-to-earth, plain-spoken man to be able to hobnob with royalty because of mastering this Sport of Kings, well, that is a story we are only too happy to tell.