And don’t blame this one on Frank Stronach. This was and remains a terrific idea, a handle bonanza from Day 1, an event that received hours of television coverage--network television courage--even if Frank (read shareholders) had to pay for it himself.
While the concept cynically might be described as being a bit sophomoric--pitting Florida-bred horses vs. California-bred horses, begging the question, why?--it nonetheless was a novel notion.
The Sunshine Millions, like the Magna 5, might not have fired up the imagination of the masses but it certainly warmed it up. Horseplayers love it for it’s quality and betability. And the event is still plenty good enough.
You can do good things when you own two tracks that run concurrently, tracks that happen to lead the industry at this time of the year; Santa Anita Park and Gulfstream Park.
So it would be Florida-breds vs. Cal-breds, the races closely interspersed with each other so that they alternate with each other rat-a-tat-tat. In the gambling business you learn that when conducting events sequentially, you quicken the pace and the pulse, which heightens the excitement level and grows the betting handle.
From day one, the Sunshine Millions worked on every level. With purses for the series of races, a like number at each track, totaling millions, it got great support from the horsemen, plenty of pub from the racing press, and huge support at the windows.
Parenthetically, I know several New York players who plan their snowbird sojourns around this event every year. The races in varying division, e.g., the Sunshine Millions Classic, will alternate between the two properties each year. This year the SM Classic is a home game for Cal-breds.
The interesting thing about it is that Florida breds don’t have to stay at Gulfstream to race. If a horseman thinks his charge has a better chance cross-country, or the pot is bigger in one spot than it is the other, his places his horse accordingly.
This cross-country contest between horses bred in the states known for their sunshine is based on a point system that depends on finishing positions. The state-bred group with the most points wins, if only bragging rights. But it worked, and it’s working still.
But now it’s the beginning of the second decade of a new millennium. The game is in dire straits, Magna exists via the benevolence of bankruptcy protection and, with no money to interest them, the network is long gone. Still, the purses are well worth winning.
The Sunshine Millions Sprint, Distaff and Turf will be run for an aggregate $800,000 at Gulfstream Park this afternoon. In the West, the Filly & Mare Sprint, Filly & Mare Turf and Sunshine Millions Classic carry purses totaling $1-million, with the Classic worth $500,000. A cool million eight-hundred thousand makes for plenty of incentive.
This year’s Classic attracted a field of 11, with more than half the competitors graded winners or graded-placed. One of the favorites, The Usual Q.T., seeking his seventh straight win, is a grass specialist. But he’ll stay home in California to test the Pro Ride. Six of one, half million of the other.
Recently Bloodhorse magazine did an interesting special feature with a unique perspective for this day and age; showcasing examples of what racing does right. One of those positive elements were special-event days.
The Sunshine Millions may no longer get network courage or offer obscenely high purses for what technically are restricted races. But it is one of those things that racing does get right. As such, it’s one of the best of the best.
The Sunshine Millions Sprint from Gulfstream Park is first up at 4:33 EST and the event will be over before you know it. So it’s OK if, for old times sake, you took the rubber band off the bankroll and enjoyed the action. The Energy Drinks are on Frank.