Thursday, January 26, 2012
Looking Like a Million
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., January 26, 2012—The Sunshine Millions program has always been one of my favorite race cards, a state’s rights version of the Breeders’ Cup. Same principle, only Kentucky- and New York-bred runners need not apply.
Make no mistake. The event normally draws the best of the best that are born and bred in either Florida or California. This year is no exception, even if Santa Anita was a little late to the table this time around. But all’s well that ends.
The 2012 roster is as strong as any renewal ever offered, including two filly champions, the juvenile heroine of 2010 Awesome Feather and last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint queen, Musical Romance. Both are Sunshine State-breds.
At the Gulfstream venue alone, where six Sunshine Million events will be staged, compared to three at the other Stronach Group track, Santa Anita Park, 17 graded stakes winners will vie for combined purses worth over $1.3 million.
On the Left Coast, meanwhile, two worthy open events, the storied Santa Monica and the Santa Isabel will complete the five-stakes program.
Normally a successful handle generating event, the Sunshine Millions will proud added wagering interest with a promotional “Luck Pick 6,” in recognition of the HBO series of the same name that debuts officially Sunday night.
The Lucky Pick 6 is a $1 wager with a mandatory payout featuring three races from each venue in a separate pool, with no ties to the traditional Pick 6 wagers offered at either venue, so that any existing carryovers apply only to traditional Pick 6 wagers.
The message seems obvious: Bring Money.
The 17 graded stakes winners from the 48 entrants at the Hallandale track have accounted for 30 graded events. Forty eight horses in six races isn’t much by numbers but even the reputation horses won’t have it easy. To wit:
The undefeated Awesome Feather holds a significant edge on her recent performance figure and it’s difficult to knock perfection. But Tiz the Argument is very good now and picks up another recent champion, Ramon Dominguez.
Another filly capable of an upset is Sweet Repent. She has excellent back figures on the Equiform scale and her victory in this race two years ago was significantly faster than Awesome Feather in an Aqueduct 9 furlongs last out. The question is whether she’s the filly now that she was then.
Awesome Feather made the developmental transition from 2 to 3 in her return following a lengthy absence due to a tendon injury. Making her first start for Chad Brown, she won an overnight sprint and parlayed that prep into a winners’ circle visit following the Grade 1 Gazelle.
Brown seems to be carefully managing her 4-year-old season as she tries to extend her undefeated record to nine.
The tendon has not been an issue and Brown was quoted to say her training schedule has gone without a hitch since shipping south. The filly is owned by Frank Stronach; the talented, young Jeffrey Sanchez rides the “house horse.”
The other champion, Musical Romance, is a bit of a throwback, having run 14 times in her Eclipse season. She will pay the price for those prestigious 2011 victories, debuting as a 5-year-old shouldering highweight of 123 under the allowance conditions. There’s that, and the competition, too.
Pomeroys Pistol runs very hard here and retains leading rider Javier Castellano. Then there’s the early gas of either Beat the Blues and/or It’s Me Mom, shipping in from New Orleans and Tampa, respectively, not to mention the solid late kick of the improved Honey Chile beneath the patient Julien Leparoux.
The day at Gulfstream concludes with the Sunshine Millions Classic and the return of a second “house horse,” the very popular and talented Mucho Macho Man trained by Kathy Ritvo, wife of Gulfstream’s president and CEO, Tim Ritvo.
He looked great paddocking between races on Wednesday as he was striding out beautifully as he walked, acted like a complete gentleman, the Florida sunshine making his brown coat glisten, more closely resembling burnt orange.
Dominguez rides the 5-2 second choice. Turbo Compressor, from the Todd Pletcher, shed is the 2-1 early line favorite by virtue of two big-figure scores at the distance. Adios Charlie, 3-1, was an extremely impressive winner over the course going a flat mile, his second Gulfstream victory in as many starts.