Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 37 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 37 Days to Go!

Gato Del Sol, “The Cat of the Sun”, was named after a cat that loved to lounge in the sun at the farm. Gato Del Sol was by the Chilean stallion Cougar II that was known as “Big Cat”, out of the Jacinto stakes winning mare, Peacefully. Arthur Hancock who bred and owned Gato Del Sol in partnership with Leone Peters, stood Cougar II, a stallion that was an American champion and superstar, at his Stone Farm. When thinking of a name he thought of the foal’s sire and dam, as well as the cat from the farm. Trying to get Cat of the Sun as the name, it was turned down, however when they attempted the Spanish version, it was approved. The grey colt would be trained by Edwin Gregson, a Sanford History degree earner and actor who turned to horse racing, learning under some of the greats.

Gato Del Sol started his 2YO season in California in a 5½-furlong maiden, closing from six lengths behind to come in third. He contested another maiden sprint two weeks later, coming in seventh. After the two losses, Gregson chose to wait for races at a longer distance for the long-striding colt that needed distance to close. His first attempt at a mile would prove to be a good decision, as he was third early, and then drew strongly away to win by seven lengths.

Trying the Balboa Stakes in his next outing, the grey ran at the back of the pack early, closing to come in third. Finally making his way into the winner’s circle again, Gato Del Sol would prove victorious with his patented come-from-behind style to win the Del Mar Futurity. In his next start, he placed third again, this time in the Norfolk, closing from 11 lengths back to be only 2½ behind the winner. Trying to find a distance that suited his trainee, Gregson entered the Hollywood Prevue which was at 7-furlongs. Despite closing in to lose only by a neck, the colt seemed to be confused by the race. Facing a longer distance in the Hollywood Futurity, the grey would come in seventh over the muddy track; however he returned in good condition, a fate that Stalwart and Header Card didn’t share, as they returned with injuries and didn’t race again.

At three, he was winless going into the Kentucky Derby. His campaign would start with a third in a sprint, followed by closing into a slow pace to finish second by a neck in the San Felipe.  Feeling hopeful by the performance, Gato Del Sol was entered into the Santa Anita Derby, where he didn’t show his normal kick, finishing 4th. Starting outside of California for the first time in the Keeneland Blue Grass, nine days prior to the Kentucky Derby, the grey would finish second to Linkage, a colt that bypassed the Derby for the Preakness.

The 1982 Kentucky Derby had its second largest crowd, despite losing a majority of its stars due to illness or injury before the race. Timely Writer, the heavy favorite came down with a stomach virus that required surgery days before the race, along with the defections of Hostage and Deputy Minister. Even with the losses, the field would go postward with 19 starters, with Gato Del Sol breaking from the 18th gate, going off at odds of 21-1. With his regular jockey aboard, the Louisiana native Eddie Delahoussaye, the pair would trail the 19 horse field from the start. Maneuvering their way through the mass of horses, they would finally break free at the 1/8 pole, leading by a half-length. Powering away from the rest, he would go on to win by 2½ lengths over Laser Light in 2:02 2/5, paying $44.40 for the win.

Gato Del Sol would tie with Count Turf in winning the Kentucky Derby off of 7 race losses. He was also the first horse since Ponder in 1949 to come from last to win the race, though Ponder faced 13 other horses. Arthur Hancock finally got to realize his father, Arthur “Bull” Hancock’s, dream of winning the Kentucky Derby with his grey home-bred colt.

After the Derby victory, the connections made waves by being the first winner in 23 years to skip the Preakness, along with the Triple Crown dream. The connections felt the longer distance of the Belmont would suit his running style; however he would finish 2nd to eventual Horse of the Year, Conquistador Cielo. In the Travers, the colt would finish fifth, injuring an ankle that would put an end to his 1982 season.

He would return to the races, competing until he was six, winning two handicaps and finishing 2nd in the Shoemaker Breeders’ Cup Mile Stakes. His final start would be in the Caballero Handicap, where he would show his late kick, flying from far off the pace to win the mile and a half contest by 2½ lengths. Gato Del Sol was retired to Stone Farm after developing swelling on his knee, where he wasn’t much of a success at stud. The stallion would be sold to a German farm where he would stand until 2000, when Arthur and Staci Hancock would buy back their Derby winner, having him returned to their farm. He would pass away in 2007 at the age of 28 due to health complications.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum