Like a guy down at the mill or a master mechanic at the local garage, Gustavian shows up every day and does his job. It's been four years and 15 races, and the 9-year-old gelding has once - once - not finished among the top three over jumps.
Trained by Leslie Young first for Jim Treptow and now for Maggie Bryant, Gustavian broke his hurdle maiden at Shawan Downs Sept. 24, 2011. A month later at Aiken, he won his next start. He started 2012 with three seconds, then a win, then another second - all in stakes company. His 2013 began with a third and a second to hurdle ace Decoy Daddy. In September of that year, Gustavian won the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory over Demonstrative and Divine Fortune among others, then chased home Divine Fortune to finish second in the Grand National. The only real blemish came when a jumping mistake sent jockey Paddy Young to the turf at the last fence of the season-ending Colonial Cup. Last year, Gustavian ran just twice - settling for second to his old friend Decoy Daddy in the Temple Gwathmey and playing best man to the groom Divine Fortune in the Iroquois. Coming off a 17-month layoff, the son of Giant's Causeway finished second behind Diplomat in the Zeke Ferguson Memorial Oct. 24.
To summarize, that's four wins, nine seconds, one third in 15 starts - most in top company - spread over four years. New England Patriots fans would take that consistency. Gustavian lines up again Saturday, looking to break through against 10 others in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup.
"It doesn't matter who he runs against, he tries to run his race," said Leslie Young. "He's always run his race. A lot of times we wish he'd win, but you wouldn't want to trade him for any of the others."
No, you wouldn't want to try to replace Gustavian. Bred by Whitewood Stable, he was a $325,000 Saratoga yearling thanks to a pedigree that started with sire Giant's Causeway (Europe's champion 3-year-old of 2000 and a world-class sire) and Grade 1-winning dam Mossflower. The daughter of Affirmed won her first six starts for Whitewood and trainer Rick Schosberg, earning her dates with the likes of Giant's Causeway.
Sent to trainer Graham Motion by Treptow's Hickory Tree Stable, Gustavian won twice on the flat but never progressed much further despite starts at Delaware Park, Presque Isle Downs, Keeneland, Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. He finished third as the favorite in an optional claimer going 1 1/4 miles on the turf at Colonial Downs in June 2010, and changed careers. That really wasn't a stretch considering that the race also included steeplechasers Power Game, Dark Equation and Complete Zen.
The Youngs put Gustavian to work that fall, but bypassed runs over hurdles in favor of some seasoning in two training flat races. Fittingly he finished second in both, and headed to 2011 as a sharp maiden hurdler.
"He came to us in good shape and Mr. Treptow was very good about not forcing us to run him over jumps that fall when he was a 4-year-old," said Leslie Young. "He could have run and they let us take our time and let him build up in himself. If we had pressed it with him, he might not have turned out so good."
Second at Middleburg, second at Nashville, fifth at Saratoga Open House, he won at Shawan in September 2011 and followed up with an allowance score at Aiken. In 2012, he won the novice stakes at Belmont Park in September - and finished second in four other stakes. By September 2013, Gustavian was sold to Bryant and rewarded her faith with a Grade 1 win in the Lonesome Glory.
Gustavian battles some tender feet, so his schedule stays light and he balances training on firm turf on the farm in Pennsylvania or the tracks at Fair Hill Training Center with swimming at Maui Meadow Farm. Gustavian travels on soft or firm ground, but the Youngs try to keep his feet in mind at all times.
"He's not ground dependent, but he's got white-walled feet and the coffin bone, on X-rays, there's some roughening on the sides and when it's firm it probably stings him a little more," said Leslie Young. "We've always done a lot of swimming with him. It's just something that in trying to pinpoint it, we've kept him on a good regimen of joint supplements and tried to take care of him. When the ground gets really firm, he goes swimming."
Last fall, the Kentucky-bred was prepping for a defense of his Lonesome Glory win at Belmont Park when the Youngs again opted for caution with some slight filling in a tendon.
"Paddy worked him at Fair Hill, everything was good and we just thought there was a slight change in the tendon," said Leslie. "We hosed him off, washed him off, he was sound, an hour later you looked and wondered if there was a slight something there. His leg was cold and tight the next day, but just because of who he is we scanned him and there was a little bit of something there."
That ended any thoughts of running last fall, and pushed back the 2015 start until last month at Great Meadow. Gustavian was no match for the sharp and in-form Diplomat, but finished in front of five others in the 2 1/8-mile stakes. All systems are go for Saturday. Paddy Young could have ridden Demonstrative or another horse in the Cup, but stuck with the home team.
A Colonial Cup win would cap a magical season for the stable, which boasts 10 wins from 28 starts over jumps (plus a 3-for-15 mark on the flat), and be a career highlight when it comes to training. In addition, Paddy will receive his fifth National Steeplechase Association champion jockey nod Saturday.
"Winning the Colonial Cup would be huge for us," said Leslie. "The biggest thing we've ever won was the Lonesome Glory and after that it's the novice stake and the Noel Laing (Nov. 7 with Andi'amu). It would be amazing to win a race like this."
She knows Gustavian will give it his best shot.
"We were happy with the race at the Gold Cup," said Leslie. "Off that long of a layoff, we weren't really sure. He warrants going Saturday. It's tougher field than it has been in a while, but he'll be OK."
He always is.
NOTES: Gustavian has won six of 29 lifetime starts (flat and jump), with 11 seconds, four thirds and $365,219 earned . . . He is Mossflower's best offspring . . . Half-brother Vine Hill is a timber horse . . . Mossflower won the Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap in 1998, and finished third in the Diana at Saratoga and Flower Bowl at Belmont in 1999 . . . Saturday features a seven-race card worth $235,000. In addition to the Cup, headliners include the Raymond Woolfe Memorial for 3-year-old hurdlers and two divisions of a $25,000 ratings hurdle. Post time is 12:15 p.m.