When it comes to the Sunshine Millions and Unusual Heat, count Barry Abrams as a fan. The 54-year-old trainer has eight horses pre-entered in the seventh Sunshine Millions races to be decided next Saturday, Jan. 24, at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, and each was sired by the prolific stallion Unusual Heat, who stands at Old English Rancho in Sanger. His breeding syndicate is managed by prominent owner Madeline Auerbach.
“He stands for $20,000, but we could have raised it to $50,000,” Abrams said of Unusual Heat. “We want to give people a chance to breed to him. He’s got a full book, and we’re probably going to end up with 70 mares for him this season, at this point.
“He’s a great, great, great-bred race horse,” Abrams said when asked to explain the remarkable success of Unusual Heat, who turned 19 on Jan. 1. “He’s bred to be a great sire. His dam (Rossard) was a great horse; her family had greatness, with Eclipse Award winners. The dam came from Sweden and she was the best horse in that region, which may not be saying much, but she came here and beat the best horses in America. The day she won the Flower Bowl Handicap (Grade I, at Belmont Park in 1984, under Laffit Pincay Jr.), there were seven fillies in that race that won either the Kentucky Oaks, the Santa Anita Oaks, or one Oaks or another, and she beat them all.
“Unusual Heat is by Nureyev. He’s one of the greatest sire of sires. Before Unusual Heat even ran, he sold for a quarter-million dollars at a 2-year-old in training sale, which was the highest price sold at Barretts that year, 1992. He won his first race by open lengths; he was the best horse in Europe. (Trainer) Dermot Weld had the horse as a 2-year-old and he will tell you today that was one of the best 2-year-olds he had at that time.”
When Abrams had the opportunity to obtain Unusual Heat, he didn’t hesitate.
“I admired him and he was a great-looking horse,’ Abrams said. “I believe he was the only one by Nureyev on sale at Barretts that day. I don’t remember for sure. I had lost track of him, because there were no computers with data bases back then where you could follow horses in Europe or anywhere else. Four years later, here he was in the United States in Dick Mandella’s barn.
“I had watched all his races in this country, and he was very rank, but ran an average Beyer of 102 in seven races in the United States, which is pretty good for any horse. I claimed him in 1996 for $80,000. He’s a great horse, but because he stands in California, there’s a tendency on the part of some people to dismiss him as a great sire.
“I believe the only reason he’s not more highly regarded nationally is because he stands in California. If we lived in Kentucky, he’d probably be one of the greatest sires of all-time in the world.”
Meanwhile, the beat goes on. Burna Dette ($24.40) and Unworldly Heat ($5.20 to place), ran one-two in Thursday’s fourth race. Their sire? Unusual Heat.
In other Sunshine Millions news:
Romance Is Diane could be making her last start in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old California-bred daughter of In Excess was purchased by Frank Stronach for $1,350,000 at the Keeneland sales following her narrow miss (by a head) against males in the California Cup Classic at Oak Tree last Oct. 5.
“I’m not sure at this point, because I haven’t spoken with Mr. Stronach in a while,” said trainer Mike Mitchell, who was on a hot streak at Santa Anita, winning with four consecutive starters before 2-1 favorite Heathersdaddysbaby finished seventh in Thursday’s seventh race.
In light of the current economic downturn, Mitchell was asked if Romance Is Diane would have more value on the race track or in the breeding shed.
“In my opinion, I think it comes down to whether she’s worth more as a broodmare prospect or if she can successfully compete in graded stakes competition,” Mitchell said. “At this point, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Romance Is Diane has a 5-2-3 record from 16 starts, with earnings of $712,718.
Mitchell, meanwhile, shared the Santa Anita training lead with John Sadler through 16 days with eight wins. Mitchell edged Sadler for last year’s crown, 33-28.
“I was pleasantly surprised winning three races Wednesday,” Mitchell said. “I had wheeled Everlasting Beauty back in six days. I knew she was good enough. I just didn’t know if wheeling her back in six days would hurt. I was really surprised about Dadsalittleunsual, because I didn’t know how willing that horse was. He’s always right there, but doesn’t win, so that was the icing on the cake.”
Agent Joe Ferrer has booked Rafael Bejarano on the following mounts at Santa Anita: Romance Is Diane (Distaff); In Summation (Sprint); Soldier’s Dancer (Turf); and Emmy Darling (Oaks).
Santa Anita newcomer Jesus Rios will ride Pistol Pete Afleet for Jorge Periban in the $1 million Classic at Gulfstream Park, agent Tony Matos said.
First post time Sunshine Millions Day is 11:45 a.m. Gates open at 10. All THOROUGHBREDS members in attendance will receive free the official Sunshine Millions AM/FM Beach radio with paid admission while supplies last.
POPULAR SHOWVIVOR RETURNS TOMORROW
Santa Anita’s popular on-line handicapping contest “ShowVivor,” will again be available for fans beginning tomorrow. The contest will feature $5,000 in prize money, with $3,000 going to the top finisher. Prizes will also be awarded to the first runner up ($1,500) and the second runner up ($500).
Participation is free and contestants will be required to select one horse per day to finish first, second or third in a race of the player’s choice. If a selection finishes lower than third, that player is eliminated. All selections must be registered on-line no later than 10 minutes before first post time at Santa Anita.
Fans are encouraged to register for ShowVivor as soon as possible at http://www.santaanita.com. First post time Saturday is 12:30 p.m. In order to participate, players must be registered by 12:15 p.m. Santa Anita’s 84-day meeting will run through April 19.
FREE WALLETS, $1,000 AVAILABLE ON MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
Santa Anita will offer holiday racing this Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While supplies last, all THOROUGHBREDS members will receive a free wallet which will include a free general admission pass to Sunshine Millions Day, next Saturday, Jan. 24.
Also, 10 lucky patrons will find a $100 bill inside their wallet. First post time Monday is 12:30 p.m. Gates open at 10:30 a.m.
FINISH LINES: With five wins from 11 starters, two of them yesterday, Peter Eurton is batting at a 45 percent clip through 16 days this meet. “It’s just timing,” said the 51-year-old trainer, who has 20 head and been training since 1985. “The horses were doing well and it’s just a matter of having the horses sound and getting them ready to go all at the same time.” Eurton is preparing She’s Cheeky for the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap on Jan. 31 and a meeting with Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ventura. “I’ve got no other choice,” Eurton said. “A three-other-than (condition race) came up too soon, so the timing of the Santa Monica and the distance of seven furlongs actually is very good for her. Ventura is not very good for her, but if I could get a second . . . I’m sure a lot of guys have the same thing in mind. That would increase her value as a broodmare, for sure.” . . . Trainer David Hofmans reports that Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Desert Code will go in the Grade II, $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 25. Richard Migliore, who rode the son of E Dubai to a rousing $75 upset in the Breeders’ Cup, comes in from New York to ride . . . Triple Crown hopeful Believe in Hope, third to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman in last year’s Norfolk Stakes, has been turned out at Bonnie Acres Ranch in Hemet. “I’ll give him some time to recoup,” trainer Ron Ellis said. “He’s just not acting right. There’s nothing specifically wrong with him. His blood count bounces around. It goes back and forth, but he’s just not happy. I’ll give him 45 days or so and see how he is.” . . . Former Los Angeles Dodger and long-time L.A. Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher will present the trophy to the winning connections of the Grade II, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes tomorrow . . . Jockey Roxane Losey is named on two horses today for trainer Howard Zucker, 7-2 morning line favorite Saucey Officer in the fifth race and 30-1 outsider Stormy Runaway in the eighth. “She started back riding last summer at Delaware Park, mainly riding Arabians,” Zucker said. “Now she’s been riding only Arabians at Los Alamitos. She won a Thoroughbred race on the grass at Delaware, and she’s worked for me in the mornings for 10 or 12 years when she was on the West Coast. She was my assistant for a couple of years.” . . . Del Conte, nearing a return for Bob Baffert, worked four furlongs on Pro-Ride Friday in :48.60 under Joe Steiner . . . Indian Blessing went the same distance in :48.20, a drill Baffert termed “good.” . . . Corey Nakatani has been suspended three days (Jan. 23-25) “for failure to make the proper effort to maintain a straight course in the stretch and causing interference” aboard Rochelle’s Jimmy in yesterday’s eighth race.