Friday, January 27, 2012

Fawkes Has Big Shot on Florida Sunshine Millions Day

Trainer David Fawkes is optimistic about his chances in Saturday’s $1.3 million Florida Sunshine Millions…and why not?

Not only will Fawkes saddle the 2-1 favorite and Mr. Prospector (G3) winner Apriority in the $150,000 Sprint, but he’ll also send the hard-knocking, stakes-winner Duke of Mischief to post in the $400,000 Classic.

Apriority and Duke of Mischief will be just two of the 17 Graded Stakes Winners on Saturday’s six-race Florida Sunshine Millions program, one that includes Eclipse champions Musical Romance and Awesome Feather, who will be attempting to run her undefeated streak to nine in the $300,000 Distaff. Mucho Macho Man, the popular third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, will go to post in the Classic.

For Fawkes, he’ll send Apriority to post after an outstanding performance Dec. 31 in the Mr. Prospector. Despite stumbling badly coming out of the gate, Apriority was able to recover under jockey Luis Saez to gamely beat Zero Rate Policy by a nose.

“That race was a heartbreaker,” said Fawkes. “He grabbed his quarter pretty good. He was bleeding in the winners circle. I mean, he got himself right up there after the start and he wins by a nose.”

In last years Sunshine Millions Sprint, run at Santa Anita Park, Apriority raced off the pace and finished well but was beaten a head by eventual Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner, Amazombie.

“Last year, I think he lost his footing,” Fawkes said. “He broke OK but he is usually not that far off the pace.Then throughout the year, he had a lot of foot issues.”

Two months after his performance in last year’s Sunshine Millions, the son of Grand Slam returned in an allowance race at Gulfstream. He won the 6 ½-furlong sprint by 4 ½ lengths over stakes winner Aikenite. He then ran in the Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct. In that seven furlong event he took the lead after running sixth but finished second by 1 ½ lengths to Morning Line. On Derby Day at Churchill Downs, the bay horse was second to Aikenite by a nose in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2) at seven furlongs. Apriority was then off the board in his next three starts, which were all Grade I events run at seven furlongs - the Alfred G. Vanderbilt, the Vosburgh, and Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“I just don’t think he was himself,” commented Fawkes. “He had a really bad abscess that we just couldn’t get right. So it didn’t work out. He’s coming into this race excellent. He looks great, the foot looks great.”

Duke of Mischief, a 6-year-old by Graeme Hall, will be taking on Mucho Macho Man and five others in the Classic. After finishing second in last year’s Classic to the multiple-stakes winner Tackleberry, he returned in March to finish fourth in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), a game effort in which he was beat only three-quarters of a length.

Duke of Mischief scored a huge prize April 16 when he captured the $1 million Charles Town Classic (G3), winning the 1 1/8th mile event on a sloppy track by 2 ¼ lengths over Game On Dude, who would later finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). After finishing a game fourth June 18 in the Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill Downs, Duke of Mischief traveled north to Saratoga for the Whiney (G1). Unfortunately, the trip wasn’t what Fawkes had in mind, ending with a 10th place finish.

“Before the Saratoga race he tore a muscle in his back,” said Fawkes. “He did not run a jump. So, I’m throwing that race out.”

Fawkes said Duke of Mischief needed his last race, a fifth-place finish in the Dec. 17 Harlans Holiday that came off a four month layoff. “He is doing excellent,” added Fawkes. “He loves this racetrack and he’s been working really well.”

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