Vekoma is named after a Dutch roller coaster manufacturer, and the wild ride this extraordinary Thoroughbred racehorse is taking the Gatsas family on keeps getting more exhilarating.
On the Fourth of July, the 4-year-old colt won the 127th edition of the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in New York to remain undefeated in three stakes races in 2020 and capture his second straight Grade 1 event in just four weeks. The Met Mile, one of the sport’s most prestigious races, is known as a stallion-making race and that proved true as this week his future breeding rights were acquired by Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.
Spendthrift, located in the heart of the Bluegrass, won the bidding war with other top echelon breeding operations that were all desirous of having Vekoma join their stallion roster.
“I’m doing really good right now. I have no complaints in the horse business,” said Mike Gatsas, the Manchester businessman and head of Gatsas Stables. “It was great to have this horse (eventually) go to such a prestigious farm as Spendthrift. I’m tickled pink. We’re very, very happy with that.”
Vekoma, who has won six of eight efforts and earned $1,245,525 in his career to date, is the “now” horse and is a hot commodity. After the Met Mile score, he vaulted to the No. 3 position in the ranking of all horses in North America in all divisions and into the top 20 in the world ratings.
Not only is he five-for-five in one-turn races, he displays sheer brilliance on the track whether sprinting at six or seven furlongs or conquering the middle distance of one mile.
Moreover, he has the pedigree to go with the performance. He is by the Grade 1-winning winning Candy Ride, who was undefeated in his career and excelled in route races, and out of the Grade 1-winning sprinter Mona de Momma. It is rare to have a multiple top-level winner who is the offspring of two Grade 1 winners.
All terms of the contract are confidential, and it is unknown if Vekoma will remain in training next year as a 5-year-old or begin stud duty in 2021.
“I think he’s going to be a spectacular stallion,” said Gatsas. “But we’re not done with running him yet.”
Not by a long shot.
The win in the Met Mile, which was accomplished in 1:32.88 and is the fourth-fastest final time in history, guaranteed Vekoma an all-expenses paid berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in Kentucky come November. The colt’s previous win in the Carter earned him his ticket in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs on the same card at Keeneland Race Course.
“Now we have two passes for the Breeders’ Cup so we’ll have to figure out what we do there,” said Gatsas.
The picture should become clearer after Vekoma’s next race. The likely spots are at Saratoga, either in the Grade 1 Forego at seven furlongs on Aug. 28, or the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, which has been shortened from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/8 miles in this topsy-turvy year when stakes schedules were reshuffled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Aug. 1.
While the Whitney trophy is one every owner in the sport covets, the Forego seems to be a better fit and also gives Vekoma more time between races. The Forego trophy would be extra special to Mike Gatsas because when he and brother Ted Gatsas operated Gatsas Thoroughbreds they won the 2000 edition with Shadow Caster.
“I think it’s the Forego,” said Gatsas. “Winning would solidify his position as Sprinter of the Year. Hopefully, he can do a little bit more and he should be mentioned right up there for Horse of the Year honors. With the way he’s winning these races and how he’s doing it, he should be regarded highly. I think he can get the distance of the Whitney, but we’re trying to build his resume for Sprinter of the Year. To win a prestigious race like that twice in my lifetime would be phenomenal.”
The Gatsas family has invested in the business since 1988 and, in addition to Shadow Caster, campaigned multiple graded stakes winner Gander and Grade 1 winner Negligee. But Gatsas Stables, which includes son Matt, daughter Amanda, and five grandkids, struck gold with Vekoma. Co-owned by Randy Hill, Vekoma took them to their first Kentucky Derby appearance in 2019.
“Sometimes I shake my head to think we’ve had horses like Shadow Caster, Gander, Negligee, and now this guy here. We’ve been blessed and we’ve been very, very lucky. But I’ve never owned a horse like this one. He definitely is the most talented. Anybody in this game would want a horse like this. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” said Gatsas.
Vekoma was a late May foal and thus immature when he went through the sales ring as a yearling. He didn’t draw much attention so the partners were able to buy him for the bargain basement price of $135,000. He’s grown from a Little Leaguer into an All-Pro under the tutelage of trainer George Weaver.
“He always had the talent. What’s different now is his maturity. He’s a marvelously minded horse. He tends to business and he loves his job. I saw him develop into a real racehorse and a real tough horse,” said Gatsas. “After he won the Shackleton Stakes (in March in Florida) he got attitude. Now he knows he’s the boss in the barn.”
With each success Vekoma’s legion of fans grows. But none are more supportive than his hometown crowd.
“One of the reasons I love what we do is that people in Manchester and in New Hampshire catch on to our horses and follow them. They watch them race, and it gives them a breath of fresh air when they run. That’s key for me because we are a community family. I get emails, texts and calls from everybody that they saw Vekoma run. It’s great to have a horse in such a small community carry my colors and carry the hopes and dreams of the city and the state. That’s important to me. Especially right now, this horse lifts people up and that is amazing,” Gatsas said.