Sunshine Millions is Saturday at Gulfstream Park and, while the main course isn’t served until later, first post is a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 11:40 am ET. The 12-race extravaganza begins with a 5-furlong turf maiden special weight and ends with a $16k, mile and one-sixteenth turf claiming race. Sandwiched in between, races 8-11, are rich Sunshine Millions stakes events restricted to Florida-bred runners only.
The original Sunshine Millions concept matched California-bred runners against Florida-breds in eight races—half at Gulfstream and half at Santa Anita. For a variety of reasons, mostly financial, Sunshine Millions has morphed into a four-race feature at Gulfstream Park for sons and daughters of the Sunshine State, only.
Here’s a pre-scratch handicapping look at this year’s Sunshine Millions races, including a bonus peak at the critical maiden-claiming finale that draws the curtain not only on the afternoon’s proceedings, but also on the rich Rainbow Six (potentially, an over $2.5 million pot), Pick 5 and Pick 4. In a program chock-full of entertaining stakes races, the finale easily is the most important to horseplayers looking to make a sizeable multi-race score.
8th Race –Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf –One Mile and One-Sixteenth on Turf
#7 Starship Jubilee figures to get the meat of the Sunshine Millions program off to a formful start. This 7-year-old mare has been facing Grade 1, 2 and 3 competition for a while. None of her foes can boast a similar resume. ‘Starship is 8 for 15 over the Gulfstream Park turf course and 3 for 7 at the distance on turf. She’s got enough pace to be within striking distance early. Javier Castellano returns to the saddle and the pair were victorious in this event last January. It appears the only drawback to this mare is that she failed at short odds over a yielding course in the Grade 3 Cardinal at Churchill last out. Is that a signal that she’s lost a few steps? Perhaps, but I’m willing to take that chance. I need a single.
#1 Beautiful Lover is a 4-year-old filly trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Irad Ortiz. She’s won 3 of 5 races, including the Boiling Springs at Monmouth. She broke her maiden over Gulfstream turf last winter. If a player were interested in taking a stand against #7 Starship Jubilee, this could be the filly.
9th Race –Sunshine Millions Sprint—Six Furlongs
#6 Lady’s Island is a 6-year-old mare with outstanding records on fast dirt 6 for 16; at Gulfstream Park 6 for 8; and at six furlongs 6 for 9. She’s a Pro--a distinction I award to any horse that consistently shows up and gives all. Must have her on my team as a first round draft choice. Yes, she’s facing males, but she’s one fast mamma with some class to boot. She absolutely romped in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl last out—her fifth consecutive win; eighth out of the last nine; and ninth out of her last ten! Regular rider Jaramillo is back for red-hot trainer Georgina Baxter. Plus, Lady’s Island is drawn outside the other speed horse #1 Extravagant Kid.
#1 Extravagant Kid draws the rail in here and that’s not my favorite post in a sprint. Still, he’s also a Pro! 12 wins in 39 starts with 11 seconds and 6 thirds earns ‘Kid that rare distinction. Furthermore, ‘Kid is 5 for 12 on fast dirt, and 7 for 27 on other surfaces. At this writing, this race is on fast dirt. As previously explained, a Pro is a horse I want with me in a foxhole. And, make no mistake, multi-race wagers are foxholes. Trainer Brendan Walsh is on fire and jockey Tyler Gaffalione is winning at 20%. Lots of positives other than the fact that he’s got to beat Lady’s Island.
10th Race –Sunshine Millions Turf—One Mile and One-Sixteenth on Turf
#9 March to the Arch takes a class plummet from Grade 1, 2 & 3 Kentucky and New York races into this restricted state-bred stakes race. He hasn’t been disgraced against the heavy heads, but he hasn’t won since claiming the Grade 2 Wise Dan at Churchill in June. Regular jock Gaffalione rides for the elder Casse. Arch’s deep closing style could present a challenge, but he’s supposed to handle these foes.
If you’re inclined to wager against #9 March to the Arch, you’re going to need to ‘spread like Skippy.’ #1 Max K. O. figures to set the pace from the rail, closely followed by #6 Class and Cash. If they hook up early, #9 March to the Arch will be toward the rear and licking his chops. #4 Souper Scat Daddy is a lightly-raced 5-year-old with speed and 2 wins and 2 places in as many races. He’s also trained by Casse the elder and has been away since March. He’ll help to nudge the early pace along to favor his stablemate.
#7 Muggsamatic was a hot claiming property at Monmouth this summer and now is in the more than capable hands of Jason Servis. A sharp Claiming Crown win that made it 3-in-a-row for this one adds to the allure.
11th Race –Sunshine Millions Classic—One Mile and One-Eighth
#6 Red Crescent ran well against Grade 3 foes in the Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream—fourth, beaten three lengths. That should set him up well for this. Before that he won a state-bred stakes in November and in October romped home in a $62k optional claiming race. Gaffalione surrenders the mount to red hot Irad Ortiz, currently batting at a remarkable 25% for the meeting. This 6-year-old can’t be ignored.
#4 Jay’s Way has speed and enjoyed success in this race in the past—he was second last year at 7-1 odds and won this race the year before at 4-1. He’s 7 now and has been gone since June. That’s not my kind of play but he should take the field a long way before fighting to the finish.
#5 Salute With Honor wins races—5 for 15 lifetime—and he’s had some success at Gulfstream. Expect this one to keep #4 Jay’s Way honest in the early going. Gaffalione rides for Mark Casse and they’ve done well together. Perhaps this one’s most favored surface is synthetic, as he’s 3 for 5 at Woodbine.
#1 Noble Drama is razor sharp following a dominating mile allowance victory. This will be just his second try at this distance—his first came in this race last year when he was a well-beaten 6th. He’s probably a reach.
#2 Tap the Mojo also is sharp off a state-bred $16k optional claiming romp at one mile. This is a step up for the 5-year-old. Outstanding Luis Saez replaces Gafflione in the irons in this one’s first stakes try. He’s probably also a reach.
12th Race –Claiming $16,000--One Mile and One-Sixteenth on Turf
No easy out here. A few questions may be answered by tote action, but that’s way too late for those playing the multis. So, we’ve got make a few educated guesses, spread a bit and hope we’re right.
#9 Bold Daddy takes an aggressive drop down the class ladder for Jason Servis--one of the highest percentage trainers around. That fact alone merits respect. Irad Ortiz returns in the irons and he is a barn favorite (43% with Servis this year at GP), so that’s a positive. This one’s been gone since June, so there’s some question of fitness, but not much because Servis is a sparkling 32% with runners gone over 180 days. Gotta use him.
#7 Bondurant takes a significant drop in class off a poor start over a synthetic Turfway surface for a sharp claiming trainer. The 7-year-old just won for $25k one race back at Aqueduct. So, why the sudden urge to unload him? Talented Gaffalione rides, but he’s not one of the barn’s usual ‘go-to’ jocks. Questions abound, here. However, you probably don’t want this one to beat you in multi-leg wagers.
#6 American Ninja is sharp--off a win for this price in a non-winners of 3. Trainer is unusually hot right now and jock is one of the best at GP. Together they’ve done well. This one would need to continue a current rise up the class ladder. Has a shot.
#12 Mission Driven was claimed last out by low-profile trainer Susan Ditter from high-percentage conditioner Jorge Navarro. No one makes a living claiming off Navarro, but this guy’s got some back class. He’s a reach in here, from the 12-hole at age 8.
Hope the sun shines on you!