This Saturday at the Great Race Place the Sunshine Millions will once again fill the stage with state-bred action. There have been some major changes in the program about what is run and the rules behind it. This year's edition brings together three stakes under the banner to help. There will be the ubiquitous food truck festival, along with a performance by Shiny Toy Guns. A good card all-around on this last Saturday in January. (Also on the card are two graded stakes, the Grade 1 Santa Monica and the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes, but those will be talked in a separate post.)
Before we talk about the races, let's go over the changes to the Sunshine Millions, as this year's program substantially different to what it has been in the pass. To put it bluntly, the only thing continuing on from last year is the Sunshine Millions name, at least when it comes to the Santa Anita races. No longer is it Florida-breds vs. Cal-breds like in the past. Now Santa Anita & Gulfstream Park will both hold state-bred races for the state they are located in instead of the two state-bred groups mixing. All six of the stakes that were part of the Sunshine Millions schedule are now schedule to run at Gulfstream Park. In its place at Santa Anita will be run three Cal-bred stakes taken from other parts of the stakes schedule to fill the gap. The three stakes snatched from elsewhere are the Sensational Star, the Crystal Water and the Valentine's Dancer. These stakes were all introduced in the 1990's for Cal-breds, and for this year will be run under the Sunshine Millions banner. Let's takes these races in order, starting with the Sensational Star.
The Crystal Water returns off a one year hiatus with a surface and distance change. It is now a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track. (It was previously at a mile on the grass) This group of six is evenly matched and each have their own question marks. Legal Separation appears to be the fastest horse early, but can he last in his first attempt routing? Bluegrass Reward comes in off a solid win, and can pass, but can he turn the tide on those in this field who have beat him in the past? Spud Spivens ran a bad race in the Grade 2 San Fernando, but can he rebound off that effort over a surface (dirt) that he has never won over? Thirtyfirststreet just won at this distance at this track and previously won a similar cal-bred stake, but if he figures to be favored, why does the "musical chairs" jockey continue? Holladay Road won his only time on dirt, but can he prevail in his first time against stakes company? Macho Dorado just won here, but can he handle the step up from claiming company? With all these questions out there, this race is a tough one to pick. If you twisted my arm for a pick, I would take the favorite.
The last of the three state-bred stakes is the Valentine Dancer going one mile on the grass. This race was thrown into the air by the scratching of probable favorite Unzip Me, along with Cayanna. It is also being reported that La Sombre will also be scratched. That leaves a field of seven evenly matched females. The role of the favorite now will likely fall to Halo Dolly. This daughter of Popular has won more than 50% of her races lifetime. She won a race similar to this during the summer at Del Mar in the Solana Beach Handicap. She can sit mid-pack and make one run. She did lose to Antares World two back, but that may have been at a distance that is just too far for her. Antares World broke an 8 race losing streak in that win. She seems to prefer a target to run down, and she will get that today. The only horse in this race to defeat open company in a graded stake is California Nectar. She is a speed ball who has only one way to go, and that is fast early. This will be her first route on the grass since a distant 4th in the Miesque S. when she was two. There is not a lot of early speed, but there are serious questions about whether she wants to go this far. Secret Cove is by the underrated turf California sire Tribal Rule. Four of her five wins are on the turf course, and with the cut back to a flat mile, she has a big chance at a bit of a price. She is a must use on the any ticket, including the $250k guaranteed Luck P6 being offered involving these Sunshine Millions race.
For a look at the Florida Sunshine Millions races, please take a look at this post from my good friend Paul over at Picks and Ponderings on Chiago Horse Racing.
So there are some thoughts about the three SoCal races under the Sunshine Millions banner. It figures to be a festive day of racing. Whomever the readers out there land on, this blog wishes you good "Luck".