Sunshine Millions Preview


Gulfstream gears up for stakes-packed weekend

Gulfstream Park has a jam-packed weekend scheduled as it plays host to the $400,000 Holy Bull S. (G3), the first major prep on the road to the Triple Crown, and the $200,000 Forward Gal S. (G2) for three-year-old fillies on Sunday. Prior to that, though, Florida- and California-breds will get their chance to shine in the ninth edition of the $1.8 million Sunshine Millions set for Saturday.
First Dude is still seeking his first stakes win (Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos)

Donald Dizney's homebred colt FIRST DUDE (Stephen Got Even) became a familiar name on the national scene last season when placing in the Preakness S. (G1), Belmont S. (G1) and other major three-year-old events. Now the four-year-old gets his 2011 campaign going as one of the choices in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream.

The 1 1/8-mile test is the richest of the three Sunshine Millions races to be run at Gulfstream while three others races in the Florida-bred vs. California-bred series will go that afternoon at Santa Anita. The other Gulfstream races will be the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf at 1 1/8 miles and the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint at six furlongs.

First Dude drew post 1 in a field of 10 with jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard for trainer Dale Romans. Florida-breds are assured of a sweep in the Classic as there are no California-breds entered. First Dude will be making his first start since finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 6 behind Blame and Horse of the Year Zenyatta.

The bay colt put together a productive, but frustrating, season for his connections as he placed in five straight Grade 1 stakes, including the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park and Travers (G1) at Saratoga following the Triple Crown events. He also lost a neck decision when second in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Philadelphia Park in September prior to the Breeders' Cup.

First Dude faces a number of highly-accomplished rivals in the Classic, led by Oaklawn H. (G2) hero DUKE OF MISCHIEF (Graeme Hall), DRY MARTINI (Slew Gin Fizz) and BIRDRUN (Birdstone).

Duke of Mischief has won two of three starts over the Gulfstream track for trainer David Fawkes, including a victory in the off-the-turf Ft. Lauderdale S. (G3) early last year. The five-year-old scored his biggest career victory in the Oaklawn 'Cap in early April and went on to capture the Philip H. Iselin H. (G3) at Monmouth Park in August. He'll have Eibar Coa aboard in the Classic.

Dry Martini is the veteran in the field, and the eight-year-old gelding will bid for a 10th victory in 36 career starts. Currently sporting earnings of more than $1.3 million, the dark bay will be making his first start since a close-up third in the Mad Hatter overnight stakes at Aqueduct on November 20. Trained by Barclay Tagg, Dry Martini scored his biggest career victory in the 2009 Suburban H. (G2) at Belmont Park. Javier Castellano was aboard when Dry Martini ran second in last year's Donn H. (G1) and takes back the mount for this one.

Birdrun came to hand late last season for trainer Bill Mott, winning a three-other-than allowance at Belmont in September and taking his game to another level with a 4 1/2-length victory in the November 13 Carl Rose Classic at Calder last out. The five-year-old ran twice over the Gulfstream track last year, finishing second and winning an allowance, both races going a mile. Rajiv Maragh, in the saddle for the Carl G. Rose, will try to make it two stakes wins in a row.

ASKBUT I WON'TTELL (Horse Chestnut [SAf]) completed her 2010 season with victories in the Cardinal H. (G3) at Churchill Downs in November and My Charmer H. (G3) at Calder in early December after arriving in South Florida for the winter season. That form will likely send her out as the favorite in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf.

Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan gets the return call on Askbut I Won'ttell for trainer Chris Block in the full field of 14 with one on the also-eligible list. The five-year-old mare was a regular traveler throughout the Midwest last season, winning an allowance at Fair Grounds early in her campaign and a stakes at Arlington Park in mid-May. She also finished a game second in the Belle Mahone S. at Woodbine in August.

Two others in the field likely to attract solid support are WILD MIA (Wildcat Heir), with Jose Lezcano aboard for trainer Tom Proctor, and SPEAK EASY GAL (West Acre), on whom trainer Marty Wolfson will give jockey Julien Leparoux a leg up. Wild Mia closed out 2010 with a runner-up effort in the Mrs. Revere S. (G2) at Churchill Downs and was just 2 1/4 lengths behind in sixth in the Marshua's River S. (G3) last out in her four-year-old bow. Speak Easy Gal racked up four straight wins over Gulfstream's turf during the early part of last season, including the Orchid S. (G3).

Wolfson also sends out stakes-placed OMEGA CAT (Omega Code) in the race.

AMEN HALLELUJAH (Montbrook) and JESSICA IS BACK (Put It Back) each won major graded events last year and look like the class of the 11-distaffer field drawn for the Filly & Mare Sprint.

Leparoux rides Amen Hallelujah for trainer Rick Dutrow as she makes her first start since losing a narrow half-length decision when second to Champagne d'Oro (Medaglia d'Oro) in the Acorn S. (G1) at Belmont Park on June 5. The dark bay miss began the 2010 season winning the Santa Ynez S. (G2) at Santa Anita in January before heading to the Atlantic Coast to add Gulfstream's Davona Dale S. (G2) to her resume by 6 1/4 lengths in late February. Prior to her Acorn second, Amen Hallelujah was sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

Jessica is Back scored the most important victory of her career when capturing the Princess Rooney H. (G1) in July at Calder before a third-place effort in the Ballerina S. (G1) at Saratoga in late August. The Wolfson trainee had a very rough trip finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Churchill on November 5 in her last start of the 2010.

The seven-year-old mare was consigned to the Fasig-Tipton November sale two nights later and, although she did not meet her reserve in the ring, was sold privately to Carolyn Vogel for $475,000. She was sent back to Wolfson at Calder to prepare for a start or two before being bred in the spring, but needs to improve on her recent seventh-place effort in the January 15 Sugar Swirl S. (G3). Jockey Alex Solis has the call.

Those attending the races at Gulfstream on Saturday will receive a Sunshine Millions cap when purchasing any seat in the Silks Simulcast room or second-floor outdoor grandstand. Fans will also have a chance that day to win DVD and posters of the Disney movie "Secretariat." Otto Thorwarth, who played jockey Ron Turcotte in the movie, and Kate Chenery Tweedy, author of "Secretariat's Meadow," will be on hand to greet race goers and promote the film.

The first 100 fans to pay for breakfast at Breakfast at Gulfstream will receive a free Secretariat movie poster. Breakfast at Gulfstream runs every Saturday from 7-10 a.m. (ET).

Post time for the first race at Gulfstream is 12:55 p.m.

Grade 1 winners highlight Sunshine Millions card at Santa Anita

New York City-born trainer James Cassidy figures to be a force on Saturday in Santa Anita's portion of the ninth annual Sunshine Millions competition when he saddles multiple Grade 1 winners THE USUAL Q. T. (Unusual Heat) and EVENING JEWEL (Northern Afleet) in their respective events.

Conducted in concert with Gulfstream Park, the bicoastal event offers purses of $1.8 million and is comprised of six races exclusively for California- and Florida-breds. The Usual Q. T. will be the leading challenger to Floridian multi-millionaire PRESIOUS PASSION (Royal Anthem) among eight entrants in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf while Evening Jewel heads a cast of nine in the $300,000 Distaff. The $200,000 Sprint, featuring COST OF FREEDOM (Cee's Tizzy), completes the Sunshine Million races at Santa Anita.

The Turf, set for 1 1/8 miles over Santa Anita's Camino Real turf course, has attracted a formidable lineup that includes such notables as Florida-bred JERANIMO (Congaree) and Cal-bred CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams), in addition to Presious Passion and The Usual Q. T.

The Mary Hartmann-trained Presious Passion has amassed $2,679,099 in earnings while racing 49 times, compiling a mark of 14-7-2 along the way. The eight-year-old gelding will be joined in the Turf by Elvis Trujillo, aboard for his last 16 races.

Presious Passion won Oak Tree's Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship S. (G1) by 2 1/2 lengths over the Santa Anita turf in October of 2009 before losing by a half-length to Conduit (Ire) in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita. No stranger to The Great Race Place, he was second in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita in January of that year.
Presious Passion is no stranger to Santa Anita's turf (Benoit Photos)

The veteran campaigner, who clearly likes the grass course at Santa Anita and does his best running on the front end, will be attempting to end a five-race losing streak when returning to Southern California.

The Usual Q. T. is exiting a third-place run in the San Gabriel S. (G2), but before that one was third by two lengths in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) behind Cartier Horse of the Year Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa) and Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat). Those two just repeated as champion turf female and horse, respectively, on Monday at the Eclipse Awards.

Cassidy gave The Usual Q. T. a brief freshening following his Breeders' Cup run, and the five-year-old gelding returned as the favorite in the San Gabriel on December 27, but was upset by Jeranimo when fading to third.

The Usual Q. T., who will have regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard for Saturday's event, needed the race according to Cassidy.

The San Gabriel was the second win in as many turf tries for Jeranimo, who captured a 1 1/16-mile grass allowance at Hollywood Park in late November. The Mike Pender-trained five-year-old also scored in the Strub S. (G2) and finished fourth in the Sunshine Millions Classic last year on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

"This horse is as good as he's ever been," Pender said, with jockey Rafael Bejarano adding, "He's really improving."
Caracortado may have found a new home on turf (Benoit Photos)

Caracortado was an impressive winner in his only race on turf, a sprint at Hollywood Park in November. He came back to run third at seven furlongs in the Malibu S. (G1) behind a track-record setting Twirling Candy (Candy Ride [Arg]) and Smiling Tiger (Hold That Tiger) on Santa Anita's opening day, December 26.

Trained by Michael Machowsky, the four-year-old captured the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) at Santa Anita as a sophomore to extend his then unbeaten streak to five races. His turf score came following an extended vacation after the chestnut ran seventh in the Preakness S. (G1), and Machowsky is welcoming the change in surface back to turf.

"I'm kind of anxious to get him back on the grass," he said.

Caracortado prepared for his Sunshine Millions engagement with a five-furlong work on Saturday at Santa Anita in 1:01.

"He's great," Machowsky said. "He worked (Saturday) and flew home down the lane. He looks great this morning so we're good to go. My horse is doing well right now."

Joe Talamo has been aboard since Caracortado came back to competition and has the call in the Turf.
Evening Jewel (inside) proved herself in route events last year (Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs)

Evening Jewel finished third behind Dubai Majesty and Switch (Quiet American) in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 5, but Cassidy doesn't expect the stretch-out to 1 1/16 miles in the Distaff to be a challenge for the filly.

The four-year-old California-bred hadn't been off the board since her maiden debut at Del Mar in August of 2009 until reappearing on January 2 in the Monrovia S. (G3) at Santa Anita, where she wound up fifth on the wire.

During her sophomore season, Evening Jewel posted Grade 1 triumphs in the grassy Del Mar Oaks and the Ashland S. on Keeneland's Polytrack while also losing a pair of Grade 1 events by a nose in the Kentucky Oaks and Las Virgenes. Those two losses came at the hoofs of recently crowned champion three-year-old filly Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision), whose own recent return resulted in a runner-up finish in the El Encino S. (G2) last Sunday.

Evening Jewel's primary competition in the Distaff might come from trainer Vladimir Cerin's BRIECAT (Adcat), a six-year-old Florida-bred mare who won the Las Palmas H. (G2) at Hollywood Park last October before venturing to Delta Downs to take the Treasure Chest S. by 5 1/2 lengths. Patrick Valenzuela, who was aboard for both those wins, has the return call.

In search of his fourth straight win, eight-year-old Cost of Freedom will take some beating in the six-furlong Sprint. The John Sadler-trained Cal-bred has won 11 of his 21 starts, including the 2008 Ancient Title S. (G1) at Santa Anita two races after being claimed for $50,000.

Cost of Freedom wasn't seen again until finishing fourth in the 2009 Pirate's Bounty S., which he used as a stepping stone to that year's Ancient Title. The dark bay ran fourth as the defending champ, but subsequently put together a bang-up third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita when crossing the wire just a neck behind of the winner.
Cost of Freedom is going for stakes win number 4 (Benoit Photos)

Talamo guided Cost of Freedom in his final three races of 2010, which resulted in victories in the Vernon O. Underwood S. (G3), California Cup Sprint and Miles Tyson S., and will be back at the controls of the gelding on Saturday.

QUICK ENOUGH (High Brite), who finished 4 1/2 lengths behind Cost of Freedom when second in the December 11 Miles Tyson, may be among the most formidable challengers on Saturday.

The seven-year-old gelding was claimed for $40,000 in August by trainer Doug O'Neill and went on to win the Morvich H. (G3) on turf the following month. O'Neill is optimistic about Quick Enough's chances in the Sprint following a nice five-furlong breeze in 1:00 4/5 on Saturday.

"He's doing fantastic." O'Neill said Sunday morning at Clockers' Corner. "He breezed yesterday, came out of it in great shape and we entered today with Pat Valenzuela."

Quick Enough is O'Neill's lone entry in the Sunshine Millions on either coast.

"I wish we had more but he's the only one we have," O'Neill remarked. "I would trade places with maybe Cost of Freedom but other than that I wouldn't trade places with anybody. I like the way we're going and he's training great."

On a 10-race program beginning at noon (PST) Saturday, Santa Anita will commence its Sunshine Millions stakes races with the Sprint going as the 5TH race. It will be followed in succession by the Turf and Distaff.



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