It will be a while before the ultimate impact of the inaugural "Sunshine Millions" is known. But the nationally televised, two-state "showdown" between California-breds and Florida-breds certainly proved an artistic success.
Saturday's eight-race series at Gulfstream Park in Florida and Santa Anita in California, with $3.6 million in total purses, drew mostly big fields with interesting wagering possibilities. And it also produced mostly close, thrilling finishes on a race-every-15-minutes timetable.
"It was a great day," said Frank Stronach, whose Magna Entertainment Corp. owns both tracks. "I think it was good for both horse racing and breeding and that eventually the Sunshine Millions will become one of the major programs in the industry."
Magna said the immediate financial results were satisfying, with Gulfstream posting a 32 percent increase in handle and a 14 percent jump in attendance compared with 2002 figures and Santa Anita showing increases of 29 percent in handle and 36 percent in attendance. Each track had around 18,000 patrons on hand, despite a cold breeze in south Florida that belied the day's relentless theme: "Feel the Heat."
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who did not have a suitable horse for any of the races, praised Magna's decision to underwrite shipping costs for the event. "I think it's going to take off," Lukas said of the idea. "I'm sick that I don't have either a Florida-bred or a Cal-bred to run this year."
Florida-breds won seven of the eight races and took the points standings, 56-16. The designations were muddled, however, by such anomalies as Atlantic Ocean, who is based in California, counting toward the rout by Florida-breds.
Lingering questions about the energetic promotion include its impact on the remainder of the Santa Anita and Gulfstream meets - both in terms of horses for subsequent stakes events and promotion dollars for other days.
However, Magna clearly stole a march on its chief rival in race track consolidation, Churchill Downs Inc. With the California-Florida "competition" in Magna's stable, CDI's most likely counter would be a match-up in July at Churchill Downs and Arlington Park, pitting Kentucky-breds against Illinois-breds - presumably with a handicap of some sort for the latter.
The Sunshine Millions results at Gulfstream:
--Best of the Rest and Booklet battled to the wire in the $1 million Classic before Best of the Rest got the edge in the final strides, winning by ½ length. Grey Memo closed with a huge rush to finish a head farther back in third. Best of the Rest, an 8-year-old, gray son of Skip Trial, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.44 under Eibar Coa. "I compare him to the boxer, George Forman," said winning trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "He's an 8-year-old going against a 4-year-old (Booklet). He just doesn't stop." Plesa said Best of the Rest has overcome four knee injuries and is still not 100 percent health. "But he's sounder now than he's been in a long time and that's why he's racing so consistently," he added. Coa, who has ridden Best of the Rest in the past, got the mount back as Jerry Bailey opted for the California half of Saturday's competition. The Classic was sponsored by the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.
--Stay Forever got rolling on the turn for home in the $350,000 Filly & Mare Turf, caught Cellers Shiraz in the stretch and worked clear to win by 1 ¼ lengths. Maliziosa was third. Stay Forever, a 6-year-old daughter of Stack, ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:47.84 under Jose Santos. "My instructions," said Santos, "were to stay back and come on the outside late and I followed the instructions and it worked out perfectly for me." Trainer Marty Wolfson said he has "been pointing her for this race ever since I found out about it." Franks Farm sponsored the race.
--Valid Video and Excessivepleasure turned the $250,000 Dash, for 3-year-olds into a match race, with Valid Video getting a ½-length victory with the inside trip. Supah Blitz was third, 3 ¼ lengths farther back. Valid Video, a son of Valid Wager, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.38 with Edgar Prado calling the shots. Prado said Pat Valenzuela, aboard Excessivepleasure, "may have been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with me by letting me in on the inside. But it didn't work out well for him because we're the ones who got the money." The Dash was sponsored by Ocala Stud.
--Valenzuela had more luck in the $250,000 Filly & Mare Sprint, booting Madama Pietra home a neck in front of Shameful. Chispiski was third, just a nose farther back, with Fly Me Crazy also making a belated move to finish a close fourth. Madame Pietra, a 6-year-old daughter of Roy, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.22. "I feel like I've just won the Breeders' Cup,"said winning trainer Howard Zucker. The Filly & Mare Sprint was sponsored by Padua Stables.
Sunshine Millions races at Santa Anita:
--Bailey's westward journey paid off as he guided Smok'n Frolic to a 2 ½-length victory in the $750,000 Distaff Stakes. After saving ground early, Bailey got Smok'n Frolic to the outside in the stretch and the 4-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken responded with a rush. Cee's Elegance led the way until midstretch and held on for second, ½ length ahead of Smart Lacy. "I thought she had these fillies measured," said Bailey. "What I like about the series is running restricted stakes for Grade I money." Vessels Stallion Farm sponsored the Distaff.
--Adminniestrator had only one horse beaten as the field ran the backstretch in the $500,000 Turf. But when David Flores put the 6-year-old Incinderator horse to the test, he responded with a big run and just outfinished Music's Storm to win by a nose. The venerable Forbidden Apple, who led briefly at the top of the stretch, held on for third as the favorite. Adminniestrator ran the 9 furlongs on firm going in 1:46.48. "I was last early," said Flores. "But I knew if he ran the last eighth of a mile like he can, we'd get there." Trainer Paddy Gallagher claimed the winner for $50,000 a year and a half ago. "He doesn't owe us anything now," Gallagher said. Barretts/CTBA sponsored the Turf.
--Atlantic Ocean closed into a brisk pace to win the $250,000 Oaks by 1 ½ lengths over Ivanavinalot. Humorous Lady was third. Atlantic Ocean a Florida-bred daughter of Stormy Atlantic, is trained in Southern California by Bob Baffert. With David Flores up, she ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.03. "I had to swing her outside and she came running," said Flores. "I didn't want to break her momentum." Ivanavinalot missed the Breeders' Cup with a minor injury, shipped for the first time and was coming back off a long layoff. "But she ran good against one of the best fillies in the country," said rider Manuel Cruz. The Oaks was sponsored by John Deere.
--Captain Squire, also coming off a long layoff, made easy work of nine rivals in the $250,000 Sprint. The 4-year-old son of Flying Chevron went to the lead on the turn after dueling for the lead and drew off to win by 5 ½ lengths over Men's Exclusive. F J's Pace was third and the favorite, Echo Eddie, finished fourth. Captain Squire went off at 3.5-1, despite Andy Beyer assuring a pre-race handicapping session in the Gulfstream paddock that the colt was "a mortal lock." The Sprint was funded by FedEx.
In other weekend racing:
Hypnotist got to the lead a furlong from home in Sunday's $75,000 Dave Feldman Stakes for 3-year-olds and was fully extended at the wire to hold off White Cat by a neck. Private Gold was third. The favorite, Strizzi, never threatened and finished eighth. Jerry Bailey, who rode the red-eye from California into Ft. Lauderdale early Sunday, had the winning ride. He and Hypnotist covered the 1 1/16 mile over firm turf in 1:42.75. "You can't get a better rider than Jerry," said winning trainer Barclay Tagg. Tagg said the Palm Beach on Feb. 21 may be the next race for Hypnotist, a Kentucky-bred son of Favorite Trick. Dave Feldman did almost every job on the racetrack in a lifetime of involvement but was best known as the colorful, fan-friendly turf writer for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Another one to keep an eye on for the Kentucky Oaks: Lady Tak. The filly remained undefeated while stretching out to a mile Sunday in the $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes, taking the lead at the top of the lane and drawing off to win by 2 ¾ lengths over Allspice. My Trusty Cat was third. Lady Tak also showed composure in the gate while a couple of rivals caused problems before the start. Lady Tak now has won all four of her starts and trainer Steve Asmussen said he expects to run her back in the Silverbulletday on Feb. 15, a stepping stone to the March 8 Fair Grounds Oaks. "She went the mile very well," he said.
Saturday, Saintly Look overcame the 11-hole to win the $100,000 Lecomte Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths over Call Me Lefty. Winning Fans, a 108-1 longshot, was third while the big favorite, Most Feared, beat only one horse. Saintly Look, a Kentucky-bred son of Saint Ballado, garnered his third win in five tries, finishing the 1 mile in 1:37.62. "He came out of there alert and I was able to clear some horses and really get him slowed down into the turn," said winning rider Shane Sellers. He then stalked the pace set by Call Me Lefty before taking charge in the lane.
Avanzado went right to the lead in Sunday's $150,000 Palos Verde Handicap and increased his lead at every call until he flashed under the wire first, 4 ½ lengths to the good of Mellow Fellow. Disturbingthepeace was third and the favorite, Kona Gold, finished sixth and last. Avanzado, a 6-year-old Argentine-bred, ran 6 furlongs in 1:07.85 under Tyler Blaze with first-time blinkers. "The way he broke today, obviously the blinkers worked," Blaze said. Kona Gold's trainer, Bruce Headley, noted he was spotting Avanzado "eight pounds and six years. If they want him (Kona Gold) to compete, they're going to have to stop making him high weight."
On Saturday, Affluent came from well back to win the $200,000 Santa Monica Handicap for fillies and mares by ½ length over Sightseek. Secret of Mecca was third. Affluent, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Affirmed, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.17 for Alex Solis. "She's as versatile as any horse I've ever had - except for John Henry," winning trainer Ron McAnally said with a chuckle.
Cyber Secret broke from the rail, went straight to the front and led all the way to the wire in Sunday's $75,000 Busanda Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. With Jean-Luc Samyn in the irons, the Florida-bred daughter of Cyberspace covered 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.88. Xtra Heart was second, 6 ½ lengths ahead of Golden Damsel. "I think her best distance will be 7 furlongs or a mile," said winning owner Sanford Goldfarb. "We might have to wait for the main track."
Saturday, Crossing Point got his point across in the $75,000 Paumonok Handicap. Opening up a 5-length lead in the stretch, the 6-year-old son of Allen's Prospect then held on to win by ½ length over a fast-closing Say Florida Sandy. Tom's Thunder was third. Crossing point ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.80. "I was like a statue and he does :21 and :44 like it's nothing," said winning rider Ryan Fogelsonger. "Say Florida Sandy made a good race of it, but my horse dug in." Say Florida Sandy' second-place check pushed his career earnings over $2 million.
Golden Gate Fields
Lacie Girl ran down pace-setting Onslaught a furlong from home in Saturday's $60,000 Orinda Handicap and went on to win by 2 ¼ lengths. Onslaught held second with Broke in Blairsden taking third. Russell Baze rode Lacie Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Editor's Note. The 6 furlongs took 1:09.58.
Private Horde drew off to a 5-length lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $50,000 Forego Stakes, then coasted home a 2-length winner over Still Be Smokin'. Gallatin Kid was third. The favored entry of Alydelta and Ultimate Warrior finished fifth and sixth. Private Horde, a 4-year-old son of Brunswick, ran 6 ½ furlongs in 1:16.43 under Jason Lumpkins.
Martha's Music romped to a 4-length victory over longshot Mystic Notion in Saturday's $50,000 Nellie Morse Stakes. Pass The Virtue was third in the 1 1/16-mile event, run in a slow 1:45 2/5. Martha's Music now has won three stakes at Laurel in three tries. "As much as I hate to take her off this racetrack," said trainer John Servis, "I think we're going to venture to New York and giver her a step up and see how she moves on."
Tampa Bay Downs
Romancin Dixie was trapped in traffic through much of Saturday's $50,000 Manatee Stakes, then took back and swung to the outside for running room and went on to catch the leaders in the shadow of the wire. The longshot paid $116.40 for a $2 win ticket. Four Plus Four was second and Belle Artiste was third.
In the companion $50,000 Super Stakes, Above The Wind provided another bountiful payoff with a front-running, 2 ¼-length victory over Attack The Books. Dr. Thunder and Sea of Tranquility dead-heated for third.
The slots-fueled giveaway continued in New Mexico as Inexcessive Play led most of the way to a 2 ½-length victory over Shemoeslikeaghost in Saturday's $125,000 La Senora Handicap for state-bred 3-year-old fillies. Shecanrun was third and the favorite, Miss Trixie, finished fourth. Inexcessive Play is by In Excessive Bull, winner of the Hollywood Prevue in 1997. Inexcessive Play's victory brought home $79,320 for owners Margaret O. duPont and Margaret V. Bloss.
Prized Amberpro overcame the outside post to win Saturday night's $75,000 Camelia Stakes for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares by 1 ¼ length over Fuse It. Light Fling was third. Prized Amberpro, a 5-year-old daughter of Aspro, covered 6 ½ furlongs on a fast track in 1:20.46.
News and notes
Australian simulcasts into the United States will be extended to seven days per week during February and March. Distributor Wyvern International began simulcasting Australian Racing on a daily basis in 1996 and currently provides a six-days-per-week signal. Spokesman Rick Albright said Australian racing provides "large fields of turf runners, quality racing and dynamic payoffs." The Sunday signal will start Feb. 2.