UCF student's road to Kentucky Derby filled with intrigue: Racing, ransom and retribution

- It sounds like a title page ripped from a Hollywood movie script, but for one UCF student, it’s playing out in real life. 

Alessandro Sano, a sophomore studying pre-veterinarian medicine at UCF, is headed to the Kentucky Derby with his father. The horse they train, “Gunnevera,” is a favorite to win. 

The trio share equal amounts heartache and success on their path to horse racing’s most prestigious race.  Alessandro arrived here in the states back in 2009 after his father, Antonio, had to move the family to Florida.  Antonio considered racing royalty in Venezuela, but had been kidnapped for 36 days and held for a steep ransom.  The ordeal proved so harrowing, he fled with his family to Miami after he was released and started over with pennies in his pocket. 

“My father was the leading trainer in Venezuela for 19 years and won more than 3300 races.  We're finally achieving our main goal which is to go to the Kentucky Derby and possibly win it,” says Alessandro.

Gunnevera is no stranger to adversity either.  The leggy colt was orphaned when his mother died just a few days after giving birth.  He was sold as a yearling for a bargain basement price at Kentucky’s famous Keeneland auction.

“He cost $16,000 and has won more than $1 million in earnings, winning more than 4 races in his lifetime,” says Alessandro as he thinks of how far the horse has come from those early days.

Now the ultimate American dream could unfold in what’s known as the most exciting 2-minutes in sports.

“This is an American dream come true for us, reflects Sano. After all our years of hard work and effort in horse racing we finally have a chance to have a horse that deserves to be in the Kentucky Derby and hopefully win it!  So we'll try to make the most of this experience and hope for the best."

Alessandro’s hope for Gunnevera, a true trifecta of spirit will and stamina as his team makes a remarkable run for the roses.

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