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Photos courtesy of EquiSportPhotos.com
On Saturday, Magna Entertainment Corporation hosted the sixth annual Sunshine Millions, featuring eight stakes races for horses bred in California and Florida only, with four races each run at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida and Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. The weather was warm and sunny at both tracks, except that Santa Anita's synthetic Cushion Track failed to drain properly after rain and hail the last few days. and thus had to be scraped to the outside to get to drier material below. Officially both tracks were fast, with Gulfstream's turf rated firm and Santa Anita's rated good.
The highlight race at Gulfstream Park was the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff for older fillies and mares. Ginger Punch, the champion older female of 2007, was making her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff and was sent off as the 3-10 favorite in this 1 1/8 mile event on the main track. 42-1 longshot Peach Flambe set the early pace of 22.92, 46.09, and 1:10.32 with Ginger Punch sitting just off the lead in 2nd or 3rd the whole way. Jockey Rafael Bejarano angled the champion out for the drive and Ginger Punch cruised to the front at the 3/16 pole, drawing off late to an impressive 6 3/4 length victory over Peach Flambe in 1:49.14. It was another 2 lengths back to 11-1 Memorette third.
Winning owner and breeder Frank Stronach said, "I had no anxious moments, but horses aren't machines. You always pray. You can't take (winning) for granted. She seemed to come out of the race fine, and the jock said he never used the whip." Bejarano added, "She broke slow so I had to use her a little bit to get her to go. When I came into the far turn my horse exploded. This horse is very special in my career. She really gives me a special feeling."
The $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf featured older horses going 1 1/8 miles over the turf course. 2-1 favorite War Monger rated in 8th early on under jockey Kent Desormeaux, well off the slow pace set by 11-1 Lucky J.H. of 24.47 and 48.46. Lucky J.H. had opened up a 2 1/2 length lead at the 1/8 pole but War Monger was closing strongly on the outside. War Monger passed the tiring pacesetter at the 1/16 pole and easily held off late-running 6-1 Soldier's Dancer to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:46.32. It was a length back to Lucky J.H. in third.
Winning trainer Bill Mott said, "When he switches off (leads), he's got a nice punch. He ran well today. He didn't have a good trip. It's amazing, when those jocks have a lot of horse, they are able to find room." Desormeaux added, "When I first rode him I couldn't get him within two lengths of another horse. To have him come through horses like he did today really impressed me. He held his ground and didn't let the other horses push him out of the way. I don't know that the pace had anything to do with his win, rather his ability to relax."
Winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said, "I don't think he's ever run any better than he did today." Prado added, "I found a hole behind the leaders and let him go. He was better today than when I rode him in the De Francis. He was more on edge. He was in command every step of the way."
Winning trainer Dale Romans said, "It was easy. She went so fast early, and everybody was trying to keep up, she just put them away. She trained well and we were always pointing for this race. Blitzing (the favorite) has beaten us before, but I guess she didn't show up today." Prado added, "She went easy on the backside and really picked it up coming for home. Dale said just to let her have her head in front and see if they can catch her."
Leana Willaford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott said, "He ran really well at Keeneland over the Polytrack. Obviously, coming all this way (from Florida), we thought he would handle this surface. They were going so fast up front, and he closed well." Jockey Garrett Gomez added, "My horse was traveling well and the pace was decent. When I swung him out around the turn, he really cut and went to running. 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."
Cornelio Velasquez aboard beaten favorite and fourth place finisher Diamond Stripes said, "He broke good to stay in a good position, but when I asked him at the 1/4 pole, he didn't really try. I don't think he liked the track. It was his first on a synthetic. He wasn't comfortable on it."
Leana Willaford, assistant to winning trainer Bill Mott said, "I just told Garrett to make her own pace. She hasn't won going 1 1/8 previously, so it was a little bit of a question, but obviously, she got the job done. She's meant to be retired. Her last race was supposed to be her last one, and we talked her owners into running in this one, and she's two for two, so now I don't know what they're going to do." Jockey Garrett Gomez added, "When we went into the far turn, I was expecting Nashoba's Key to be coming after me, and when I didn't see her, I thought maybe she got held up in traffic or maybe the soft turf was bothering her. When we got to the top of the stretch it looked like maybe the field was coming to me. I asked her at that point and she sprinted clear."
The $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint featured a field of eight older fillies and mares going 6 furlongs on the main track. 4-5 favorite Dearest Trickski went to the lead right out of the gate, setting very fast fractions of 20.52 and 43.39 while about 2 lengths clear of the rest of the field. Entering the stretch, the heavy favorite powered away under jockey Mike Smith to win by 4 1/4 lengths over 13-1 Dixie Dreamer in 1:07.66. It was another length back to 9-1 Prime Catch in third.
Winning trainer John Sadler said, "When we were in the paddock, the big question was how the track was going to be today. We didn't really know. We know she likes synthetic surfaces, so our plan was to go to the front and see how it played out." Jockey Mike Smith added, "She has been training amazingly and she ran that way. She's just about the quickest thing I've ever been on. They just don't come any quicker than that. She's like a deer leaving the gate. She runs 'em off their feet, relaxes and then she's got another gear. What's good about her is that when she hits the front again, she'll prick her ears, take a breath and get some more air to finish. She is remarkable."
Winning trainer James Kasparoff said, "(Winsome Charm) looked like he was going better than us but my horse showed another gear. He re-broke when David really asked him to run. We're looking to possibly stretching this horse out in his next race." Jockey David Flores added, "His distance capability is a question right now because he's only been sprinting, but he is a horse that can rate. He just pricks his ears. I had to hit him a couple of times, and then he pulled away. That was very exciting, the way he did it."
Photos courtesy of EquiSportPhotos.com
2007 Sunshine Millions
2006 Sunshine Millions
2005 Sunshine Millions
2004 Sunshine Millions
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