By Gene Kershner
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Gulfstream Park is the place to be in thoroughbred racing this weekend, not only is it hosting the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards, but a hearty Sunshine Millions card is on tap on Saturday afternoon.
I’ve arrived in the Sun Belt to emcee a fan-based awards brunch on Sunday morning, which will feature trainer Nick Zito, champion handicapper Michael Beychok and former jockey and current NBC track reporter Donna Barton-Brothers. Ms. Brothers also is currently the COO of Starlight Racing, the stable most likely to receive 2-year-old colt champion honors on Saturday night for the efforts of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby.
As for the racing, the Millions card features a number of intriguing horses starting at the first race where the Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice (8-5) will make his first 3-year-old start in a 7-furlong optional claimer. The Curlin colt won impressively at the Spa last summer and retains the services of Eclipse finalist Javier Castellano in the saddle.
The Sunshine Millions portion of the card gets underway in the fifth race with the Filly and Mare Sprint, featuring another Pletcher favorite, R Holiday Mood (8-5), a graded stakes winner who comes off the long layoff. She’ll be challenged by two sharp fillies, Golden Mystery (9-5) and Grade 1 winner Emma’s Encore (5-1), both of whom have past success on the Gulfstream track.
Watch the early races on the card, as the Gulfstream strip can be prove to be a very fast track favoring speed horses. It’s been known to be supped up on big race days so be sure to keep an eye on whether a track bias develops.
I attended Millions day three years ago and I remember that favorites ruled the day, especially those who have fared well at Gulfstream in the past. Romacaca (9-5), the favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf is a horse that fits that bill. She’s 10-5-2-0 at Gulfstream lifetime and enters winning three of her last four, the only blemish a dismal performance in the Grade 1 Beverly D on Arlington Million day.
Hoping it isn’t all chalk on Saturday and possibly the Sunshine Millions Sprint may render an upset. Close It Out (10-1) boasts the speed and has handled Gulfstream and has won at the 6-furlong distance, hitting the board in eight of nine attempts at the distance. In a start two races back he defeated 5-2 favorite Bahamian Squall, so he has proven he can handle the class of his competition.
Wondering who trains the favorite in the Turf? Once again, it’s the omnipresent Pletcher who sends out Doubles Partner (8-5) to head up a field of eight horses going 9-furlongs over the Gulfstream turf course. I had trouble finding any horse in this race that could challenge. Slew’s Answer is coming off a long layoff, Bad Debt and Picou could rival the favorite, but just don’t appear fast enough. Teaks North has back class and Hall of Famer Johnny V aboard, but his latest efforts are less to be desired.
The feature race of the day, the Sunshine Millions Classic, is not short on star power. Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man (6-5) will be the heavy favorite over Ron The Greek (8-5) and Fort Loudon (4-1). Fort Loudon mostly ran in sprint races during his 11-race 3-year-old campaign and will stretch out for the first time since last year’s Florida Derby. Ron The Greek was the only horse to defeat likely 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan last year.
The Classic will most likely crown the handicap horse looking to build a foundation for a solid start to the 2013 season. Attracting those top horses should provide patrons with a great finale to a decent card of racing at the Hallandale Beach track.