New York-bred champion Gander passes at 26

Thursday, December 8th, 2022

Multiple New York-bred champion Gander won six stakes during his career, including two editions of the Empire Classic. Adam Coglianese/NYRA Photo.

By Tom Law

Four-time New York-bred champion, graded stakes winner and fan favorite are just a few easy ways to describe Gander.

Anne Morgan, who took care of the popular gelding the last few years at her Mill Creek Farm in Stillwater, summed him up far better.

“We are devastated. Gander was a very special horse,” Morgan said Thursday, the day after the son of Cormorant passed at age 26. “His big personality was a force to be reckoned with.  He was a big gentleman who loved people and especially loved his carrots.”

Gander earned those carrots and more, after a career that started when the Gatsas family bought him for $50,000 at the 1998 OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training and culminated with retirement more than seven years later. He won 15 of 60 starts and earned $1,824,011.

Mike Gatsas called him a “lunch box horse,” in a NYRA feature story almost three years ago, when Gander was well into retirement and before a now annual stakes race named in his honor was run at Aqueduct.

“Every time we put him on the track, he performed well,” Gatsas said.

Bred by Angela Rugnetta, Gander started his career for the late trainer Charles Assimakopoulos before moving to the barn of John and Tonja Terranova. He compiled a record of 15-10-9 along the way, and became a popular member of the NYRA circuit and a poster boy for the state’s breeding program.

Gander last summer at Mill Creek Farm in Stillwater. Susie Raisher Photo.

Gander won two of six starts as a 2-year-old and finished second in the Damon Runyon Stakes late in the year to set up his sophomore campaign that produced the first of his New York-bred championships. He won three of 12 starts, with four seconds and two thirds, including victories in the Albany Handicap at Saratoga Race Course and Empire Classic Handicap at Belmont Park late in the season.

Gander followed those campaigns with New York-bred championship seasons in 2000, 2001 and 2002 – in the 4-year-old and up male category – with victories in the Evan Shipman Handicap in 2000, Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup Handicap in 2001 and Empire Classic in 2002.

Gander enjoyed his best season in 2001, winning two of 10 and earning $557,060. He also placed in that year’s Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, Grade 1 Donn Handicap and Grade 3 New Hampshire Sweepstakes Handicap and contested the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park.

His bankroll of more than $1.8 million made Gander the third highest New York-bred earner when he retired in 2003. He initially went to Better Days Farm in Bedford Hills, New York, before spending time at the late Peter Fuller’s Runnymede Farm in North Hampton, New Hampshire. Gander also lived at Stone Bridge Farm in Schuylerville for several years before making his way to Mill Creek Farm.

“He was one of the smartest horses I have had the privilege to be around,” Morgan said. “He will be sorely missed here at Mill Creek. He was one of a kind.”

The Gander Stakes was inaugurated in the mid-2000s, initially for 3-year-olds and up in the fall at Aqueduct and then for 4-year-olds and up in the spring at Belmont Park. The $100,000 Gander is now for 3-year-old New York-breds and will be run at 1 mile Saturday, Feb. 25 at Aqueduct.

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