The Classic highlighted an eight-race series, split between Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, restricted to horses bred in Florida and California. Until early Saturday, it was questionable whether the Santa Anita events would be run because of persistent rain and continuing drainage problems with the new artificial track. A break in the precipitation and hard work by the maintenance crew had the track dry and lightning fast by post time, however.
Go Between, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Point Given, has been picking up minor checks in good races around the country for the past few years for trainer Bill Mott, but won two of his last three races coming into the Classic.
"When I swung him out around the turn, he really cut and went to running," said Garrett Gomez, who guided Go Between over the 9 furlongs in 1:45.64. "The pace set up pretty much the way we thought it would. It looked like there was about three of them that wanted to go."
Leana Willaford, assistant to Mott, said she doesn't know where Go Between will go next. But she point out he has been successful on synthetic surfaces and said he likely will stick to tracks that feature them.
The victory was the biggest of three for Mott in the Sunshine Millions events. He also won the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita with Quite a Bride and the Turf at Gulfstream with War Monger. The other Sunshine Millions races:
-- Quite a Bride stalked the pace in the $500,000 San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino Filly & Mare Turf, challenged on the turn and then took charge in the stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Nashoba's Key, who suffered her second straight defeat after starting her career with seven straight wins. Quite a Bride, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Stormy Atlantic, came into the race off a victory in the South Beach at Gulfstream earlier this month. Nashoba's Key had not raced since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Saturday, Quite a Bride ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:49.98 for jockey Garrett Gomez. Willaford said Quite a Bride was to have been retired after her last race. "Now she's 2-for-2, so now I don't know what they're going to do," she said.
-- Dearest Trickski, the odds-on favorite, led virtually all the way to a 4 1/4-lengths victory over Dixie Dreamer in the $300,000 Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita. Prime Catch caught show money. Dearest Trickski, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Proudest Romeo, opened a safe lead early and coasted home, finishing the 6 furlongs in 1:07.66 under Mike Smith. The victory was her fifth straight and seventh in her last eight races. In her last start, Dearest Trickski won the Grade I La Brea at 7 furlongs. "We know she likes synthetic surfaces, so our plan was to go to the front and see how it played out," said winning trainer John Sadler, who claimed Dearest Trickski for $32,000 last August.
-- Bob Black Jack sizzled over the heavily worked Santa Anita surface to win the $250,000 Dash for 3-year-olds by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:06.53. Winsome Charm chased all the way and finished second. Afleet Ruler rallied to take third. Bob Black Jack, a California-bred colt by Stormy Jack, was ridden by David Flores. "We're looking to possibly stretch this horse out in his next race," said winning trainer James Kasparoff. "There's really not too much for him now going short. This was a race we planned on running in. We'll try to find the easiest spot for him going two turns."
-- War Monger took back after the start in the $500,000 Turf at Gulfstream Park, experienced traffic issues on both turns but still managed to strike the lead in the stretch and win by 1 1/4 lengths. Soldier's Dancer was second and Lucky J.H. finished third. War Monger, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by War Chant, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.32. Mott gave Kent Desormeaux the leg up. War Monger now is 4-for-7 lifetime. "It's amazing," Mott said of War Monger's troubled trip. "When those jocks have a lot of horse, they are able to find room." He said he has not yet scheduled War Monger's next start.
-- Breeders' Cup Distaff and Eclipse Award winner Ginger Punch made her 5-year-old debut a successful one, winning the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream by a more-than-comfortable 6 3/4 lengths over Peach Flambe. Memorette completed the trifecta. Ginger Punch, a Florida-bred daughter of Awesome Again, sat nicely behind the pace for jockey Rafael Bejarano, went to the lead when asked entering the stretch and the rest of the race was for place money. The 9 furlongs on the fast track went in 1:49.14. "I had no anxious moments," said winning owner-breeder Frank Stronach. "But horses aren't machines. You always pray. You can't take it for granted."
-- Benny the Bull took charge in the stretch run of the $300,000 Sprint at Gulfstream Park, winning off by 4 1/2 lengths over longshot Santana Strings. Mach Ride finished third. Sent off at even-money, Benny the Bull ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.48 with Edgar Prado up for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. Benny the Bull was last seen winning the DeFrancis Memorial at Laurel Park in November. Before that, he was a well-beaten fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
-- American County showed the way all the way to the wire in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks at Gulfstream Park, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Robbie's Gal. Validain was third. American County, a Florida-bred daughter of Gibson County, ran 6 furlongs on the fast track in 1:10.38 with Edgar Prado up for trainer Dale Romans. The winner now is 3-for-10 lifetime and picked up her first stakes victory. She has never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. "It was easy," Romans said. "She went so fast early, and everybody was trying to keep up. She just put them away."
Other weekend racing:
-- Asiatic Boy, winner of last year's UAE Triple Crown, did what he needed to do in winning Thursday's Al Shindagha Sprint at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai. Under Johnny Murtagh, Asiatic Boy sat behind a fast pace for the first half mile. When asked, he quickly sprinted into contention and bested Salaam Dubai by 1 1/4 lengths in the race to the wire. Malayeen was third and Diabolical, making his first start for Godolphin Racing, faded to finish fourth after stumbling at the start and rushing into contention. Asiatic Boy, an Argentine-bred, becomes a solid contender now for the March 29 Dubai World Cup, pending the results of at least one more prep race. "The Dubai World Cup is very much in the plan," said winning trainer Mike De Kock. "But we might just look at the Mahab Shimaal with him over the same distance on Super Thursday for him next." Super Thursday concludes the Dubai International Racing Carnival run-up to the World Cup festivities.
-- Horses representing 20 racing authorities around the world have been nominated to this year's $12.5 million Asian Mile Challenge, which opens with Futurity Stakes in Australia March 1. The series continues through the Dubai Duty Free March 29, the Champions Mile at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong April 27 and the Ysasuda Kinen in Japan June 8. A sweep earns a $4 million bonus; three of four, $2 million; two wins, $1 million.
Kentucky Derby preps
Yankee Bravo fell back shortly after the start of Sunday's $150,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, then had to fight though a traffic jam at the quarter pole before winning by 1 length. Cafe Tortoni finished second with Victory Pete third. Yankee Bravo, a Kentucky-bred colt by Yankee Gentleman out of the Royal Academy mare Vickey Jane, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.57 under Alex Solis. Patrick Gallagher trains the colt.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Rated Fiesty led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 Dixie Belle Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, but was disqualified to third for bearing in during the stretch run. The stewards' ruling advanced Kadira to the win and Palanka City, the aggrieved party, to third. Kadira is a Kentucky-bred filly by Kafwain out of the Rahy mare Raw Gold. She finished a neck behind Rated Fiesty's time of 1:10.69 on a fast track. Luis Quinonez rode Kadira for trainer Steve Asmussen.
-- In Sunday's $50,000 El Paso Times Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at Sunland Park, Snake Proof kept moving farther and farther out to find room in the stretch but, once he got clear, ran on to win by 1 length over Kuba a Noqua. The pace-setter, R Charlie's Angel, held on for third, a head further back, and the favorite, Valid Lilly, finished fourth. Snake Proof, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Petionville, covered the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:16.13 under Joe Martinez.
Buffalo Man stalked the pace, then launched an all-out rally in the stretch to win Sunday's $125,000 Appleton Handicap by 1/2 length over Elusive Fort. The pace-setter, Jet Propulsion, settled for third. Buffalo Man, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred colt by El Prado, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.86. Edgar Prado took a leg up from trainer Cam Gamcolati.
Sam Houston Race Park
Reporting for Duty reported home first in Saturday's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup, rallying from way back and then running off in the stretch to score by 4 3/4 lengths. Red Rock Creek, the winner's stablemate in trainer Steve Asmussen's barn, also ran late to take second and Goosey Moose, first early, held on for third. The favorite, Honest Man, also had the lead briefly but tired in the stretch to finish fifth of six. Reporting for Duty, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Deputy Commander, ran the 9 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:52.33 under Luis Quinonez.
Buy the Barrel stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Distaff for fillies and mares, went to the lead on the turn for home and ran away from 10 rivals to win by 8 1/2 lengths. Bold Angel, the early pace-setter, held well to finish second, a nose to the good of Game for More. Buy the Barrel, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by E Dubai, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a "good" track in 1:45.46 under Gabriel Saez.
Wild Hoots led all the way in Saturday's $60,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares, drawing off in the stretch to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Art Show. Take a Check finished third. Wild Hoots, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Unbridled's Song out of the Storm Cat mare Cahooters, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.5 with Mario Pino in the irons. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the winner. "She stepped up against better competition and it looks like she's just coming into herself right now," said Pino, who now is only five wins away from tying Johnny Longden (6,032) on the all-time jockey winners' list.
Forest Blue, making his first stakes start and first start of the year, remained undefeated with an off-the-pace victory in Saturday's $50,000 Forego Stakes. With Victor Lebron aboard, the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Forest Wildcat gelding sent to the lead a furlong from the wire and won by 1/2 length over pace-setter Grease Monkey. Recognition was up for third. The favorite, Korbyn Gold, faded to finish eighth. Forest Blue now is 5-for-5 on his abbreviated career. "He's one of those horses that once he's clear and he's got horses to track down, he just goes," said Lebron. "His heart pumps up and gets big."
Trail This rallied to the lead with a furlong to run in Saturday's $50,000 G Malleah Handicap and drew off smartly to win by 3 lengths over Ducky Drake. Highland Games finished third. Trail This, a 5-year-old, California-bred gelding by Trail City, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.4 with Ry Eikleberry in the irons.
Sunday, Rivoltella came to challenge pace-setter Merrily with a quarter mile to run in the $50,000 Kachina Handicap for fillies and mares, went on by and won by 4 3/4 lengths. Merrily held second and Film Editor unreeled a late run to take third. Rivoltella, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Broken Vow out of the Dynaformer mare Port Roberto, ran the 1 mile on a sloppy track in 1:38.22.
Brax chased down pace-setting favorite Run Like Fire in the closing strides of Saturday's $125,000 Pepsi Cola Handicap for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds, winning by a neck. Playingwithchimes made a late bid to take the show money. Brax, a gelded son of Night Fright, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.42 despite some traffic problems at the top of the stretch. Casey Lambert had the mount.
Autobahn Girl swung to the outside for the stretch drive in Saturday's $60,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap for fillies and mares and was just up in time to win by a neck over the early leader, Candy Ball. Platinee finished third. Autobahn Girl, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by A.P. Indy, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed main track in 1:47.81. Patrick Husbands rode Autobahn Girl for trainer Malcolm Pierce. Three of the original starters were scratched when the race came off the turf.
Lord Snowdon was shut off at the start of Saturday's $75,000 Paumonok Handicap, advanced along the inside, then swung wide for the stretch run and rallied past pace-setting Man of Danger to win by 1 length. Debussy chased the leader, then held on for third-place money. Lord Snowden, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Seeking the Gold, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.2 under Ramon Dominguez.
Run With the Lark sat behind runaway leader R Clear Victory through the early stages of Sunday's $65,000 TurnoftheCentury Stakes for New York-breds, then went by in the stretch drive to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Platinum Couple finished third. Run With the Lark, a 6-year-old Runaway Groom gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.66 under Norberto Arroyo Jr.