Gitano Hernando made a sterling impression in his Team Valor International debut at Doncaster Racecourse on Sunday in the northern part of England, storming home down the stretch to register a resounding 2 ½-length score in a Class 3 Handicap over 1 ¼ miles on firm turf. The win marks a successful initial step on the colt’s path towards the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes on June 6. The son of Hernando was acquired by Team Valor earlier in the year.
The red colt broke like a rocket from the far outside slot, but reinsman John Egan immediately opted to wrangle Gitano back to sit third to last in the 9-horse field in the early going. With approximately 4 furlongs remaining, Egan allowed Gitano to gradually advance past the rivals. With a quarter of a mile to go, Egan finally sat down on Gitano, asking for him for his best and he responded willingly and with a strong burst of energy which thrusted him past the stingy leader Tepmokea.
The official margin of victory was 2 ½ lengths and it was better than 6 lengths back to the race favorite, Orbitor, who checked in third. The strung-out field covered 36 ¼-lengths from tip to tail, which is indicative of a strong performance by the top three finishers, particularly Gitano Hernando.
“I did not want to hit the front too soon,” explained Eagan. “Never for one step did I doubt that I was sitting on the winner. He ranged up to the leader on his own accord and while the leader tried to fight back for a few strides, I was certain I always had his measure. I schooled our colt a little and let him look the other horse in the eye and when I switched the whip to my left hand, he provided me with the strong acceleration I was hoping for. He quickened really, really well. I like him very much and expect him to do good things. The trip is not an issue.”
Trainer Marco Botti was enthusiastic. “I was very confident in our colt going into the race, but it was tempered when I spoke to the trainers of the horses who finished second and third, as they were extremely high on their runners. So it is good to know that the company was pretty well regarded. The ground may have been a little firm for Gitano today, but he is a class horse and was simply a superior animal.