By Emily Shields
When the late horse trainer John Roche asked Roy Guinnane to claim a horse with him, Guinnane felt in over his head.
“I didn’t even know what claiming was,” Guinnane said.
Not one to sit back and let an opportunity pass him by, Guinnane dove in and returned home with both a newly claimed Thoroughbred and a Quarter Horse.
“Within three months I had 13 horses,” he said. “Then I was buying weanlings and yearlings, and traveling to Kentucky to get mares in foal.”
Guinnane, a 59-year-old resident of San Francisco, went from a racing novice to a regular at the sales in just a short while. Now he is represented on the track by dual stakes winner Marino’s Wild Cat, maintains a string of 25 horses, and runs a construction company in Northern California. His GCCI Thoroughbreds stands for Guinnane Construction Company Inc., which is his livelihood outside the game.
“I actually love working,”Guinnane said. “I’m not one of these people who sits behind a desk and delegates. I buy land and old houses, rebuild the buildings, frame the foundations, and remodel the kitchens and bathrooms myself. I love working hands-on with the tools.”
Building something from the ground up comes naturally to Guinnane, who arrived in the United States from Ireland at age 7. He made that first foray into claiming horses at the Alameda County Fair in 1975 and eventually expanded his stock to 55 head.
Trainer Cliff DeLima is something of an enabler for Guinnane, as they both love purchasing horses from sales.
“We can’t do sales anymore,” DeLima stated firmly last fall. “When we go to a sale, we come home with eight horses.”
“He’s calling the kettle black,” Guinnane joked. “He’s worse than me!”
DeLima’s proclamation won’t be stopping either of them, as they are already looking ahead to the rest of the 2015 2-year-old sales.
Guinnane and DeLima have enjoyed a partnership for more than 20 years.
“He loves horses,” Guinnane said. “He isn’t into needles and injecting; his philosophy is time off. It’s not unusual that he asks to give a horse nine months or a year.”
The conservative method is paying off for the duo, with California-bred Marino’s Wild Cat winning stakes races in both 2014 and 2015. The 6-year-old son of Marino Marini—Faxene, by Dayjur, is the result of his connections’ patience.
“I claimed his dam and only ran her once,” Guinnane said. “At first I wanted to pass on her. Marino’s Wild Cat is her first foal.”
Homebred Marino’s Wild Cat debuted Dec. 29, 2011, finishing fourth in a $32,000 maiden claiming event at Golden Gate Fields.
He improved to second at the same condition Jan. 21, 2012, but then went to the sidelines until Nov. 3. When he returned, Marino’s Wild Cat broke his maiden against open company, winning by 3 ¼ lengths.
That victory kicked off a win streak for Marino’s Wild Cat, who took four consecutive races spanning from 2012 through mid-2014. In his stakes debut, the $56,910 Jess Jackson Owners’ Handicap at Santa Rosa, the dark bay or brown gelding finished fourth, but he found the wire first in the $100,250 Harris Farm Stakes at the Fresno Fair. He not only won the six-furlong contest but scored by 5 ¾ lengths.
Marino’s Wild Cat finished fifth in the $100,315 Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) to end his 2014 campaign, but he has already won another stakes in 2015.
Marino’s Wild Cat captured the $60,460 Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 16, leading nearly every step of the way to cruise home by 1 ¾ lengths. The effort bolstered his record to six wins and two seconds from 13 starts for earnings of $214,760.
Another recent Guinnane homebred winner was Perfect Meeting, a Cal-bred daughter of Marino Marini—Lacey Meeting, by Lacey Evitan. She debuted at Golden Gate in November 2012, finishing sixth and didn’t return to the races until April 2014. The time off paid dividends as Perfect Meeting broke her maiden by three-quarters of a length.
“There was a freak accident when we took her to Iowa to race,” Guinnane noted. “There was a big storm with lots of thunder and lightning, and she hit the stall wall and injured her knee. She was never quite the same after that.”
Following a career that saw her win three times in nine starts, Perfect Meeting was retired and will be bred for the first time this spring.
Guinnane is trying to keep his numbers down, but the temptation to buy is strong.
“I used to have mares in both Kentucky and Florida, and I was into pinhooking,” he said. “But that was a lot of work, more than I could handle.”
Guinnane has a farm in Washington state where his horses reside while he plans his next attack on the sales.
“Cliff is funny about the sales,” he said. “If it looks like we’re losing a horse we like, he’ll tell me, ‘Bid one more time, just one more time,’ until we eventually get the horse. For an 83-year-old, he is doing so well. He trains in the morning, manages his ranch, and shoes horses, too. All that keeps him going. The more horses, the better for him.”
The physical and mental demands of each sale don’t seem to be taking their toll.
“It’s a lot of work,” Guinnane said. “We rank our top 25 horses, then I look at them all, and Cliff looks at them three times and handles each one. He’s not afraid to lecture me about things like disturbing horses that need to relax in their stalls.”
DeLima and Guinnane hope to race Marino’s Wild Cat in several more stakes races this year, including some at Santa Anita in Southern California. Horses such as Marino’s Wild Cat make all the hard work worth it, but despite the long hours browsing catalogues and examining horses in the flesh, Guinnane and DeLima enjoy every minute.
“Nothing makes us smile like talking about the next sale,” Guinnane said.