When owner Mike Gatsas runs four-time stakes winner Funny Guy in Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Forego presented by America’s Best Racing, he will be reminded of his first graded stakes triumph 20 years ago when Shadow Caster pulled a 50-1 upset in the prestigious sprint.
The native of Manchester, New Hampshire, who operates under the moniker Gatsas Thoroughbreds alongside his brother Ted, had only owned horses for about five years and had just made the transition from former trainer Charlie Assinakopolous to John Terranova, who also conditions Funny Guy.
Shadow Caster arrived at the Forego with 28 starts under his belt but still appeared to be overmatched against the likes of multiple graded stakes winners Richter Scale and Successful Appeal.
“I remember saying to John, ‘Let’s get into the Forego’ and he looked at me like I was crazy,” Gatsas recalled. “We took a leap of faith. I had just moved my horses to Terranova’s barn at the time a month and a half prior to the Forego. But he went in there and outraced himself for sure and beat a very, very good field.”
Shadow Caster recorded a 113 Beyer for his upset victory in the Forego, which was a Grade 2 contested at 6 1/2 furlongs in 2000.
“That was a good field of sprinters and he had never faced anything quite like that, but he pulled it off,” Terranova said. “The following year, they changed it to a Grade 1, otherwise that would have been [my first Grade 1 win].”
Funny Guy won’t be arriving at the Forego as quite as big an underdog as Shadow Caster, but the 4-year-old Big Brown bay has still yet to prove himself against open graded stakes company. However, the versatile New York-bred has defeated some of the best the Empire State-bred program has to offer, like multiple stakes-winner Mr. Buff, who was second to Funny Guy twice this year in the Commentator and John Morrissey.
“He’s another good New York bred coming up. He’s certainly in top form right now and the best of his life so far,” Terranova said. “We’ll see how he goes from here. It seems as if he looks to be running the better races of his career whereas some of the top ones have maybe run a little bit less than what they’ve run before, but it’s hard to say for sure.”
Funny Guy, who Gatsas owns in partnership with R.A. Hill Stable and Swick Stable, has displayed versatility from several different standpoints. In addition to winning stakes races at distances ranging from 6 ½ furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, he also has found the winner’s circle when demonstrating different running styles.
In the Commentator, he came from off the pace under a well-timed ride by Rosario to record a 101 Beyer and followed up with a stalk-and-pounce triumph in the Morrissey, where he tracked just a length off the pace to draw off to a two-length win.
Jockey Joel Rosario was aboard for both efforts and Gatsas praised the jockey for executing well-timed rides in his last two starts.
“He has multiple gears and if you get into a little traffic, Joel can take hold and let him out a bit and he responds to Joel when he does that,” Gatsas said. “He’s a very smart horse. On days of the race, he rests because he knows he’s going to war. But he has those multiple gears and we’ve seen that in the morning with him, too.”
Gatsas also owned multiple New York-bred champion Gander, who finished a game second to Lemon Drop Kid in the Woodward just two weeks after Shadow Caster won the Forego. He also currently co-owns Vekoma, winner of the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter and Grade 1 Runhappy Met Mile, with R. A. Hill Stable.
Despite having not yet won a graded stakes race, Gatsas still holds Funny Guy in high regard and said that he is already one of the best horses that he has owned.
“We’ve had some real nice horses and it looks like Funny Guy might rise to the top of the list,” Gatsas said. “We had Shadow Caster and Gander with John as well. I think Funny Guy is going to surprise a lot of people. It’s a bigger and tougher field but no bigger or tougher than Shadow Caster’s field. He’s doing great now and Joel staying on shows how much confidence he really has. We’re lucky to have such a jockey on him as Joel, he has tremendous confidence in this horse.”
For the past two decades, Terranova has been one of the go-to trainers for Gatsas, who also has horses with George Weaver.
“I’ve been in the business almost 25 years and all trainers have been gentleman and excellent horsemen. I brought a bunch of horses to John and [wife] Tonja and we’ve become family,” Gatsas said. “My daughter and son and John and his whole family have become friends. We’ve done a lot together and had some real good horses. We had [Grade 1 winner] Negligee, who was owned by my son [Matthew Gatsas of Sovereign Stables] and went to the Breeders Cup with her.
“We’ve done quite well over the years with he and Tonja; they are hard-working, great people. They care about their horses and they care about their owners. To have a relationship this long is pretty unique.”
A big run from Funny Guy could mean a trip to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
“I’m not faint of heart to run in the Breeders’ Cup,” Gatsas said. “I supplemented Gander for a lot of money to go to the Breeders’ Cup in 2000. If he comes out great and John says ‘Hey let’s take a shot’ I’m sure we’ll be in Kentucky. I’m thinking he’ll run really well on Saturday. He’s that good right now.”
Terranova also would be in favor of taking a shot in the Breeders’ Cup.
“If he were to show up and everything went well, it would be something for sure we would give great consideration to,” Terranova said.
NYRA Press/ Photo-NYRA