In horse racing, the best-laid plans often go awry. Occasionally, an alternate course turns out to be even better. Thus is has been with Southern Image, the winner of Saturday's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita.
A year ago, Southern Image was a promising candidate for the Kentucky Derby, finishing third in the San Vicente Stakes behind some classy rivals. When that plan was derailed, trainer Michael Machowsky put the colt away for the summer, bringing him back in the fall to win an allowance race and then the Grade I Malibu in only his fourth career start.
Saturday, jockey Victor Espinoza kept Southern Image close to the early leader, Excess Summer. Making his move on the turn, Southern Image quickly drew out to a clear lead and wasn't threatened any further, winning by 3 lengths. Excess Summer held on gamely to finish second, with The Judge Sez Who closing from far back to take third at long odds.
Southern Image, a Florida-bred son of Halo's Image, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:47.67.
"He was a little closer than I thought he'd be," said Machowsky. "But I was a little worried that he'd be rank today, just routing first time in a while and only his second route race. But I couldn't be happier."
Added Espinoza: "I think we are going to have a good and long future with this horse."
The Classic keyed the second running of the Sunshine Millions, pitting California-bred against Florida-bred in four races at Santa Anita and four at Gulfstream Park. In addition to adding interest to an otherwise "down" time in racing, the successful event succeeds in generating sun- and warmth-envy in the snow-cold-ice belts of the Northeast and Midwest.
In other Sunshine Millions races at Santa Anita:
-- Valentine Dancer split rivals at midstretch of the $500,000 John Deere Filly and Mare Turf Stakes and got home first, 3/4 length ahead of Moscow Burning. Bartok's Blithe was third. Valentine Dancer, a 4-year-old daughter of In Excess, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.31 under Jon Court. "There were no problems, no concerns," said Court, "except that the pace was pretty leisurely and I thought everyone else would have a good punch on the end. I was just hoping I would be right there with them, the strongest at the end."
-- Mooji Moo won a battle for the lead in the $300,000 Nextel Filly and Mare Sprint, then opened up a big lead and held on to win by 3/4 length over a fast-closing Bold Roberta. Bear Fan and Channing Way dead-heated for third. "She's pretty much one-dimensional," said Bruce Brown, assistant to winning trainer Tim Hills. "You just have to kind of let her go, so I wasn't really expecting the other horses to let her go like that." Jockey Corey Nakatani said, "All I had to do was keep her out of trouble and get her around the race track. And that's what I did." Mooji Moo is a Florida-bred daughter of Jeblar.
-- Saint Afleet stayed close to the lead through the early stages of the $250,000 NATC Dash for 3-year-olds, then won a three-horse blanket finish by a head over Cheiron, with Ice Wynnd Fire third, another nose back. Saint Afleet, a Florida-bred son of Northern Afleet, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.68 for jockey Kent Desormeaux. "He broke great today and he just had to keep to his task," said winning trainer Craig Dollase. "They ran fast."
-- Secret Request, at odds of 74-1, rallied from last in a field of 12 to win the $500,000 Ocala Breeders' Sales Distaff Stakes by 3/4 length over Smok'n Frolic. Scapade was third and the favorite, House Party, could do no better than seventh. Secret Request, a 4-year-old daughter of Jules, took her time from the outside post position under Eibar Coa, worked through on the inside on the turn and then came wide to make her winning run. She finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.16. "It surprised me only because she broke from the 12 hole," trainer David Brownlee said of Secret Request's huge upset. "I knew she would hit the board, though," he added.
-- Proud Man sat well off the pace through most of the $500,000 Franks Farm Turf Stakes. But when jockey Rene Douglas gave him the gas, the 6-year-old son of Manlove swung to the outside and ran down his rivals, winning by 1/2 length over pace-setting Hear No Evil. Special Matter was third and the favorite, Man From Wicklow, trailed the field the entire way around. Proud Man completed the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:45.69. "He finally got a good trip," said winning trainer Christophe Clement. "He's been very unlucky."
-- Shake You Down, who probably should have been a finalist for the Eclipse Award in the Sprint category, dusted six rivals in the $300,000 Padua Stables Sprint, whipping Green Team by 3 lengths. Valid Video was third. Shake You Down, with Mike Luzzi at the controls, was easily the best and finished in 1:09.18. "It could not have worked out any better, said winning trainer Scott Lake. "The fractions were fast, but he was just having fun out there."
-- Silent Sighs was caught in a box for most of the stretch run in the $250,000 Ocala Stud Oaks. But when David Flores found her running room, the Benchmark filly got the job done, catching front-running Wacky Patty near the wire to win by a neck. Dixie High was third. Silent Sighs ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.82. "She's an amazing filly," said winning trainer Julio Canani. "The goal is the Kentucky Oaks."
In races with potential Triple Crown implications:
-- Quick Action, a Carson City colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas, led almost all the way to a convincing, 7 3/4-lengths victory in last Monday's $75,000 Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes at Aqueduct. Quick Action was bred by the late William Young and is owned by Young's Overbrook Farm. "They let me dictate the pace and he ran great," said winning rider Heberto Castillo Jr., who lost his whip at the eighth pole.
-- Fire Slam stalked the pace set by Two Down Automatic in Saturday's $100,000 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Ground in New Orleans, then drew off to win by 2 lengths. Shadowland was up to edge Two Down Automatic for the place. Fire Slam, a son of Grand Slam out of the Salt Lake mare Miss Firefly, ran 1 mile in 1:38.48 with Shane Sellers in the irons. Trainer David Carroll said he will make the March 7 Louisiana Derby Fire Slam's next start.
-- Pro Prado got just enough running room on the rail in the final sixteenth of Saturday's $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park and nailed pace-setting favorite Wildcat Shoes by a neck. Hawkish was third. Pro Prado ran the 6 furlongs over a track rated sloppy in 1:11.92. "We have this son of El Prado and Proper Prado, also a son of El Prado," said winning trainer Robert Holthus. "I think this one is the most talented but (jockey) John McKee likes the other one."
In other weekend racing:
Yearly Report came from just off the pace to win last Monday's $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 4 lengths. The Bob Baffert trainee was ridden by Jerry Bailey. She finished the 7 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:21.11. House of Fortune was second and Papa to Kinzie was third. "Her disposition suggests she will go on," Bailey said of Yearly Report, a Cal-bred daughter of General Meeting. Baffert added he told Bailey to "ride her with confidence because she's like a Kentucky Oaks kind of filly." He said he will "play it by ear."
In Sunday's $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap, Island Fashion came from off the pace to catch Buffythecenterfold at mid-strech and won by 3/4 lengths. Got Koko was third and Sightseek, the favorite, raced evenly to finish fourth of six starters. Island Fashion, a 4-year-old daughter of Petionville, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.37. "We had to work for the lead," said winning rider Kent Desormeaux. "This race just proves that this filly has the determination to win." Trainer Marcelo Polanco said he scratched Island Fashion from the El Encino last weekend to run against tougher competition in a Grade I race. "That's where you see what you have," he added.
Lotta Kim was a lotta horse in Sunday's $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Steadied early, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Roar came roaring down the stretch, winning by 3/4 length over Josie G. Love Power was third and the favorite, Stephan's Angel, faded to finish seventh. Lotta Kim, with Robby Albarado aboard, ran 1 mile on a "good" track in 1:38.88. "I got squeezed out in the first turn but she handled that very professionally," said Albarado. "I was in tight throughout the whole race but she seemed not to mind it. When I had daylight, she exploded through it." Trainer Hal Wiggins noted offspring of Roar "don't like two turns. But somehow I knew this filly would."
Icy Lane raced quickly to the front in Saturday's $125,000 La Senora Handicap for 3-year-old, New Mexico-bred fillies, then coasted home, winning by 4 lengths over Devil Lace. Vipervapor was third. Icy Lane, a daughter of Devon Lane, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.87.
Sunday at Sunland, Ciento rallied from just behind the leaders to win the $125,000 New Mexico State University Handicap by 1 length over Hesa Bad Cat. Casperino was third. The 1-mile race, restricted to state-breds, went in 1:37.06.
Request for Parole sat behind the leaders until the stretch turn in Sunday's $100,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap, then had to work for running room before getting to the lead. Once clear, the 5-year-old son of Judge T C opened up daylight, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Slew Valley. Sir Brian's Sword was third. The 1 3/8 mile on firm turf took 2:12.58. Jose Santos rode Request for Parole.
Peeping Tom rallied from the back of the field to win Saturday's $75,000 Paumonok Handicap by a head over pace-setting Don Six. Super Fuse was third in the 6-furlong event, clocked in 1:10.44. Peeping Tom, with Ariel Smith aboard, came wide around the turn and closed sharply to catch Don Six at the wire. "He's just an old pro," said Smith. "He knows what's going on. I was just a passenger. I could feel him doing just enough to get up for the win."
Sunday, Island Sand saved ground around both turns of the $75,000 Busanda Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then switched to the outside for the stretch run, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Tempting Note. Fait Accompli was third and the favorite, Taittinger Rose, checked in fourth. Island Sand ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.04
Gators N Bears dueled with Native Heir in the early furlongs of Saturday's $75,000 Hoover Stakes, then turned back a challenge from Native Heir's stablemate, My Good Trick, to win by 1/2 length. Sassy Hound was third. Gators N Bears ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10. Winning trainer Leo Nechamkin said Gators N Bears, a 4-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic, will try the $200,000 General George on Presidents Day weekend. "We are hoping for a little early speed in the General George," he added.
Golden Gate Fields
Ema Bovary broke slowly in Saturday's $60,000 Orinda Handicap, checked in traffic and then raced rankly. Still, the 5-year-old, Chilean-bred mare was able to find running room to rally in the stretch, catching Christmas Time to win by 2 lengths. Pheiffer was third. The 6 furlongs over a wet-fast track took 1:08.59. "She's a racehorse," said winning rider Roberto Gonzalez. "She'll go through anything.
Tampa Bay Downs
Above the Wind led all the way to a 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday's $50,000 Super Stakes - the second straight year the 7-year-old Island Whirl gelding has won the event at long odds. After cruising through sharp early fractions, Above the Wind finished the 7-furlong event in 1:23.78. Scrubs was second and Attack the Books finished third. The favorite, Burning Roma, checked in fifth. "This horse is really dangerous loose on the lead," said winning trainer Ron Allen. "He's just in great form now."
Doc D rallied in the stretch run of Saturday's $40,000 Forego Stakes, catching Founding Chairman in the late going for a 3/4-length victory. Mr Bassett was up to take third. Doc D, a 5-year-old son of Strodes Creek-Nurse Dopey, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.64 under Jason Lumpkins.