R. A Hill Stable & Gatsas Stables - Vakoma

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Vekoma, whose win in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, confirmed his status as a legitimate Triple Crown trail contender, taking his co-owner, Gatsas Stable‘s Mike Gatsas—who owns Vekoma with Randy Hill of R.A. Hill Stable—on a journey he’s never taken and pursuing the Run for the Roses 15 years after his worst day at the track. That’s when his great, gray New York-bred gelding Gander—the first horse he purchased who became one of the most popular horses in New York—had a career-ending and life-threatening injury at Saratoga on August 31, 2004, suffering a straight-across fracture of the cannon bone. But the bone healed and Gander survived. The $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-breds is named in his honor at Aqueduct, March 17.

The 2000 New York-bred Horse of the Year retired with 15 victories, including the 2001 Gr2 Meadowlands Cup (10 seconds), including a second in the 2000 Gr1 Jockey Club Gold Cup (nine thirds), and more than $1.8 million in earnings from 60 starts over seven seasons. Gatsas, who then raced his horses as New Hampshire-based Sovereign Stable with his brother Ted, a former state senator and mayor of Manchester, retired Gander to Stone Ridge Farm near Saratoga Springs. “He’s still doing great,” Gatsas said. “Everybody loves him. It was just a great pleasure to go see him last summer. Now my grandkids get to go up and see him. He literally is a member of the family.”

Negligee, a two-year-old filly Sovereign Stable purchased after her second start, gave Gatsas his first Gr1 victory when she captured the 2009 Alcibiades at Keeneland. Like Gander, Negligee was trained by John Terranova.

Vekoma’s pursuit of the Run for the Roses under the care of trainer George Weaver and his wife Cindy, who exercises Vekoma, is a whole new thrill for Gatsas. “When Negligee won the Alcibiades, that was a great day for us; that was the first grade one stake we ever won,” Gatsas said. “But don’t let anybody kid you. There is only one Derby. I haven’t been this far. It’s a blast. I always wanted to go there with a horse that would be competitive.”

He’s delighted to be sharing the chase with Randy Hill, whose box at Saratoga Race Course was right behind Gatsas’. “We met four years ago,” Gatsas said. “I said, `What do you think if we split some horses?’ He said, `Sure.’ We’ve been doing that for four years. We really got to like each other. We’re really having fun with these horses.”