Last weekend we were treated to one of our first real tastes of the 2009 Triple Crown season with the Holy Bull and the Lecomte. Additionally, my good friend Val from Foolish Pleasure has also shared this video showcasing another Curlin filly by the mare Collect Call (and doesn’t she look awfully familiar?). Obviously, the year and the deep winter many find themselves in are starting to show their first hints of thawing out on us and warming things up….and it’s about darn time, isn’t it?
This weekend the focus in racing shifts back to runners we may have more familiarity with in the annual Sunshine Millions event held for California and Florida bred horses at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. Six races, two tracks, and numerous directions for horseplayers to consider present themselves. Here’s my quick picks for the races on Saturday, in order of the tentative post times.
The $200k Sunshine Millions Sprint (GP – R8- 4:33 ET)
We kick things off with the 8th running of the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park. A relatively small field of 7 horses is all there is to choose from. Personally I think this one comes down to two of them; THIS ONE’S FOR PHIL was one of trainer Rick Dutrow’s speed freaks last spring. The horse went to the Dave Houghton barn following a 5th place finish in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens last June at Belmont. Houghton got the gelding back on track with a 3 length victory over lesser foes last out at Laurel. I feel he may be in for a tough match today with the imposing PASHITO THE CHE, a son of Flatter (A.P. Indy) for the Scott Lake barn who has won 3 of his last 4 starts, all with impressive Beyer figures. Looks pretty simple to me.
- #4 Paschito the Che (8/5*)
- #6 This Ones for Phil (9/5)
- #3 Accredit (6/1)
The $300k Sunshine Millions Distaff (GP – R9 – 5:08 ET)
The second race in the Sunshine Millions is the Distaff, for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles over the main track at Gulfstream Park. Things seem to get a bit more interesting here with a field of 9 horses, several of which would seem to have chances. Like the sprint, I have a feeling this one may boil down to a two horse race between SWEET REPENT and JESSICA IS BACK, neither of whom will over a lot of bang for the buck. If you’re looking for more value, you might want to focus on the chances of EVEN ROAD (20/1) and SCOLARA (12/1), with EVEN ROAD probably having the better shot between the two thanks in part to a solid two-for-three record at the track. That being said, her past performances suggest she may be a better play underneath in the exotics. SCOLARA would need some pace help in all likelihood due to her late running style. Ultimately, I think you’ve got to make SWEET REPENT the top choice here, considering how the daughter of Repent handled JESSICA IS BACK at Churchill Downs going a mile and a sixteenth back in November. I’ll guess that she gets a solid trip here and winds up in the winner’s circle.
- #4 Sweet Repent (2/1)
- #7 Jessica Is Back (9/5*)
- #6 Even Road (20/1)
The $200k Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint (SA – R6 – 2:36 PT)
We head out west to beautiful Santa Anita for the first time this afternoon for the Filly and Mare Sprint. This might be one of the more interesting betting races of the entire series, due to the rather large field size (13 horses) and the lack of an obvious standout. The race within the race that looks most intriguing on paper concerns two of the top contenders; MISS MCCALL and LIBOR LADY. MISS MCCALL returns to the Santa Anita Pro Ride after a romp over the dirt at Turfway Park last December. She’s been on the shelf since then, but is lightly raced and obviously has room to continue to improve. LIBOR LADY picks up the services of Gomez, and you know she’ll be running hard every step of the way. It’ll be interesting to see if these two bang heads early on for the lead and wind up cooking each other, or if one settles into second. Especially considering other speed types like HIGH RESOLVE are here. If they do bang heads, then watch out for DUBAI MAJESTY coming from just off the pace, along with either QUISISANA or perhaps even DOTSY JEAN. Ultimately, I’m going to take a risk here and go with DUBAI MAJESTY, even though she’s 0 for 2 over the synthetics. I just have a feeling she could wind up the beneficiary of a great trip behind the speed. It’s also worth noting that she handled LIBOR LADY, albeit over the turf, last October at Keeneland. True, she’s a tepid favorite on the morning line at 4/1, but I have a hunch MISS MCCALL will go off as the post time favorite.
- #10 Dubai Majesty(4/1*)
- #3 Miss McCall (9/2)
- #7 Libor Lady (6/1)
The $300k Sunshine Millions Turf (GP – R10 – 5:43 ET)
We head back east for the final leg of the Sunshine Millions from Gulfstream Park in Florida. JET PROPULSION could be setup perfectly to run away with this one if he can get loose on the lead. If you’re a speed player, this is probably where you’ll wind up. The one warning sign to consider though is the 0 for 3 mark over the track – but it’s not like horses don’t take advantage of ideal setups all the time to overcome such concerns, so take that with a grain of salt. The favorite is SOLDIER’S DANCER, who will be running hard late no matter what happens in front of him. It’s hard to ignore that 7 for 14 record at the 9 furlong distance as this race is clearly within his reach. I also thought BAD ACTION, WICKED STYLE, and DUKE OF MISCHIEF were somewhat interesting in here, especially as potential plays underneath in the exotics. Don’t overlook PICKAPOCKET either, as while it would be a surprise to find him in the winner’s circle, he’s run well against SOLDIER’S DANCER in the past. I’ll be betting that SOLDIER’S DANCER runs down JET PROPULSION at the wire, but I won’t be surprised in the slightest if the speed hangs on to beat me or one of these other contenders leaps up and grabs victory from the jaws of defeat (and if you twisted my arm and made me guess who would beat me…I’d say BAD ACTION). This could be a deceptively tricky race.
- #8 Soldier’s Dancer (8/5*)
- #11 Jet Propulsion (4/1)
- #3 Duke of Mischief (8/1)
The $300k Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf (SA – R7 – 3:07 PT)
I’ll start with a disclaimer here, as while she doesn’t show up in my top picks, I’ll obviously be rooting for my main man Graham Motion and his entry SAUCEY EVENING in the Filly & Mare Turf. Yes, she’d need her absolute best and then some to likely win, but if there’s one guy in all of racing who deserves to win every race he’s involved in, it’s Motion. Looking over the rest of the field with my homerism out of the way, I actually like (surprise, surprise) another tepid post time favorite here in TIGHT PRECISION. I like that she’s won on the grass at Churchill and Gulfstream, which suggests she’s got some versatility, however in all honesty I would feel a lot more comfortable with that selection if there were a race over the Santa Anita grass to evaluate. Oh well. To be totally transparent, I actually like both of trainer Thomas Proctor’s entries in here, with the other being CLOSEOUT. TIGHT PRECISION will obviously be more forwardly placed, with the aptly named CLOSEOUT looking to, well, close things out, I suppose. Not that I’d call CLOSEOUT a true closer – but she will be coming from further off the pace in all likelihood. CENTURY PARK would make quite a bit of sense here if she can get out and control the pace, although it would seem BOOTLEG ANNIE will give her a battle up front for that right. Ultimately, you know where I’m going here – I’m loyal to a fault, which means I’ll be supporting SAUCEY EVENING with my voice and my wallet, even if others make more sense. Go get ‘em, Saucey!
- #6 Saucey Evening (5/1)
- #2 Tight Precision (7/2*)
- #1 Closeout (4/1)
The $500k Sunshine Millions Classic (SA – R8 – 3:38 PT)
We wind things up with the 8th running of the Classic. Honestly, who doesn’t love a “classic” (even if this one is not a 10 furlong “classic”)? I’m a little perplexed as to how morning line favoritism of 5/2 could’ve been bestowed upon THE USUAL Q.T. in this race? Certainly she’s got a chance, but are you really going to take those odds on a horse that is winless over the synthetics? In her defense, she has placed in each of her 2 starts over the Santa Anita Pro Ride, and we all know Unusual Heat is one of the more prolific synthetic sires out there, but that just seems like a pretty big leap of faith to me (even on what I’ve referred to as the “turf impersonating Pro Ride” in years past). Especially in the biggest race of the day. I’m going to lean elsewhere to the improving and lightly raced COMPARI for trainer Martin Jones. I love what I see in this horse’s running lines. yes, he likes to be on the lead, but look a the hidden diversification in his efforts: turf, synthetics, sprinting, routing – he’s done it all in his short career, and hopefully on Saturday he can add a Sunshine Millions Classic victory to those accomplishments. What’s not to like? Four straight victories? Gomez getting the call? My only concern is that he might be a slightly better turf horse, but that certainly isn’t a reason to expect any regression over the Pro Ride. Some other horses in here that I find a bit intriguing include JERANIMO and BOLD CHIEFTAIN. JERANIMO hasn’t really “classed up” the way I’d like to see, having been throttled by the talented M One Rifle last out, but could benefit from the stretch out having sprinted rather exclusively since last Spring. BOLD CHIEFTAIN is a definite contender in here, and you might want to think about WICKED STYLE as a possible player as well. Looks like a solid betting race.
- #8 Compari (3/1)
- #7 The Usual Q. T. (5/2*)
- #9 Bold Chieftain (6/1)
Best of luck to all! And of course, as always, let me know who your picks are.