It’s March 7, 2020 and Tampa Bay Downs is packed with horse racing fans. This is the prime time for racing here in Florida. The state is awash with promising three-year olds who are all competing for precious points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
The particular race fans had come to see was the Tampa Bay Derby, a Grade 2 race with points on a scale of 50-20-10-5 awarded to the top four finishers. An array of talented horses had won the race in the past - Street Sense, Verrazano, Tapwrit, and Carpe Diem to name just a few - and everyone was eager to see who would be the next star to rise from Tampa Bay.
A field of twelve horses loaded into the starting gates with all money bet on Sole Volante, winner of the Sam F. Davis (G3), and Chance It, a three-time stakes winner. No one expected the bay colt loading into gate 11, King Guillermo, to be the star of the show. He had shown promise the previous year with a third place finish in the Pulpit Stakes, but hadn’t raced in four months and was facing more proven horses.
Tampa Bay Downs’ starting gates open with a bang and the group of three year olds all bound out beautifully. Relentless Dancer bolts from post three to take the lead and King Guillermo sprints to his outside. Relentless Dancer grabs a narrow advantage and leads the field down the backstretch.
The horses start their trek around the far turn and jockey Samy Camacho asks King Guillermo to pick up his pace. The colt responds immediately and goes stride for stride with Relentless Dancer into the stretch. The pacesetter promptly gives way and King Guillermo spurts forward. Chance It doesn’t seem to be making a run for the win, but Sole Volante is furiously spurting up the rail from last place. Still, King Guillermo feels no pressure.
The colt begins to draw clear of the field and track announcer Richard Gurney calls, “Inside the final furlong...do you believe this? King Guillermo at 49-1! He doesn’t just win it, he wins it off impressively!”
In that moment, a somewhat unknown son of Uncle Mo suddenly became the talk of the sport.
[Video: Watch King Guillermo (#11) win the Tampa Bay Derby]
King Guillermo was born on February 6, 2017 in Kentucky for breeders Carhue Investments, Grouseridge Ltd. & Marengo Investments. His dam Slow Sands raced only twice and never won, but she sported a shining pedigree. She was sired by the iconic Lane’s End stallion Dixieland Band, who had proven himself to be an versatile and successful sire and broodmare sire. He himself was sired by the legendary Northern Dancer and was out of a Grade 1 winning mare Mississippi Mud (Delta Judge).
Dixieland Band’s daughters have sired two Kentucky Derby winners: Monarchos and Street Sense. His son Dixie Union sired Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags.
Slow Sands also had some historic breeding on her dam’s side. She was out of Slow Down, a stakes winning mare sired by Seattle Slew. Seattle Slew not only won the Triple Crown in 1977, but also became a prominent producer while at stud. Like Dixieland Band, Slow Down was out of a Grade 1 winning mare named Corrazona.
Clearly, King Guillermo had inherited a lot of potential talent from his dam Slow Sands. The colt’s sire Uncle Mo is obviously no slouch either. He was a two-time Grade 1 winner and has been a wonderful stallion for Coolmore. Among his countless notable progeny are Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and three-time Grade 1 winner Bast.
Uncle Mo is sired by Indian Charlie, who was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby in 1998. He ultimately finished third and was retired without racing again. Indian Charlie proved himself to be a successful sire, with 65 stakes winners and four champions.
Uncle Mo is out of the stakes-placed mare Playa Maya, sired by Grade 1 winner and successful Claiborne stallion Arch. Arch sired four champions and is the broodmare sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I’ll Have Another.
Additionally, Uncle Mo is known to pair well with mares from the Seattle Slew line. Slow Sands fits this bill.
King Guillermo has “classic winner” written all over his pedigree, so it was a bit surprising when he RNA’d at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2018. He returned to the sales ring after training in Florida for a year, and this time hammered at $150,000. That price has turned out to be quite the bargain for his owner Victor Martinez, a retired five-time MLB All-Star.
Martinez had always planned to get into horse racing, but didn’t transition to this sport until he retired. “We come from a place in Venezuela, Ciudad Bolivar, that used to have a racetrack,” he said to Mike Kane of Thoroughbred News Service. “We always liked horse racing. We were never into betting. We just went to the racetrack and watched the horse races. When I was playing baseball I really didn’t have time to get involved in any of that. So it was when I retire maybe I can buy a couple of horses and we can go out there and have fun to see them race.”
King Guillermo was spotted at the sale by Juan Carlos Avila. Avila had trained horses for thirty years in Venezuela and Martinez was confident that he could pick a future winner at the sale - and train it for him too. Once their colt was selected, Martinez named him after his father who had passed away when Martinez was just seven years old.
The partnership between Martinez and his trainer Avila has paid off! King Guillermo was the favorite when he made his debut September of 2019 at Gulfstream Park, but finished sixth in the 5 ½ furlong dirt sprint.
Martinez recalled many people telling him that King Guillermo was a “turf horse”, so they decided to enter the colt into a one mile turf race at Gulfstream Park West in November. King Guillermo relished in the change of scenery - he took the lead after the break and never looked back, bounding around the course with his ears pricked. At the time he crossed the wire, he was 6 ½ lengths in front. It was truly a sensational victory.
That race told them all that they needed to know - this horse was going to do good things on the turf course. Their next step was to enter him into the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park, run at one mile on the grass. King Guillermo didn’t get the lead this time, instead sitting second on the rail. He took the lead at the top of the stretch and was soaring down the stretch, but tired out in the final stages of the race and was passed by Sole Volante and Irish Mias.
The colt didn’t race for four months between his two-year old and three-year old season. During this time, Martinez couldn’t help but wonder if his horse would display that same winning ability if he had a second chance on the dirt. Sure he had been beaten in his only dirt race, but it was his debut and the dirt in his face could have scared him.
[Video: Watch King Guillermo's first three races - his debut (#3), first win (#7), and Pulpit Stakes (#4)]
King Guillermo was entered into the Tampa Bay Derby with hopes of winning points towards the Kentucky Derby. If he didn’t perform well, he would certainly be returning to the turf where he proved he has real ability.
But King Guillermo’s brilliant speed and a good ride from his jockey Samy Camacho got King Guillermo to the wire with 4 ½ furlongs between him and the favorite, Sole Volante.
“Honestly, I always have respect for everybody. I played 16 years in the major leagues and I never believe in favorites,” Martinez told Thoroughbred News Service. “I played with the Tigers and we were supposed to win the World Series like four straight years and we didn’t do it. I never believed in that. You don’t win games on paper. You don’t win races on paper. Races have to be raced. Games have to be played.”
The original plan was to train King Guillermo all the way up to the Kentucky Derby without making another start. But with the postponement of the Derby due to Covid-19, King Guillermo was going to need to run in another race.
His connections chose the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby during Oaklawn Park’s exciting meet. There he was going to have to face Nadal, an early favorite for the Derby, as well as Wells Bayou, Farmington Road, and Silver Prospector. King Guillermo settled into third place on the rail, right behind pacesetter Wells Bayou and Nadal to his outside.
As they rounded the final turn, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm The Court charged up alongside King Guillermo. But as they got near the top of the stretch, King Guillermo easily left Storm The Court behind and charged at the leaders. He passed by Wells Bayou and held off a run from Finnick The Fierce, but couldn’t catch Nadal.
He was not embarrassed in that defeat - he had just finished second behind a horse who was considered to be one of the best in the country (and is now out of the Kentucky Derby).
[Video: Watch King Guillermo (#4) finish second behind Nadal in the Arkansas Derby]
King Guillermo has been at Churchill Downs since July 27, getting acclimated with the track and readying up for the big race. His connections feel that he does not need a schedule as active as other three-year olds, as he is a lighter horse. Instead, they are bringing him into the Kentucky Derby with plenty of rest and plenty of time to get used to Churchill Downs.
This horse’s pedigree suggests that he’s made to run in the Kentucky Derby and a victory for him would definitely be a wonderful story for his owner, who is very new to the sport, and the rest of his Venezuelan team!
About: Champions of the Track is dedicated to growing the popularity of horse racing by sharing stories, photos, and videos of the sport. We provide engaging content to generate new fans whilst entertaining the sport’s loyal supporters.
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