by John Mucciolo
A quartet of stakes events for Florida-bred runners headlines the Sunshine Millions card at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, and eight will go postward in the feature, the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic.
The 1 1/8-mile test attracted a well-matched cast, led by 2018 runner-up Mr. Jordan, who won the Millions Classic Preview Stakes at Gulfstream Park West for the third straight year in his latest venture. The Eddie Plesa Jr. trainee picks up pilot Jose Ortiz for his yearly debut.
Grade 3 scorer Souper Tapit racked up a 7-1-3-3 mark in 2018 but never faced stakes rivals. The chestnut son of Tapit returns to black-type action in this spot for conditioner Mark Casse, and served notice to his foes with a commanding nine-length allowance romp in mid-December over the track in preparation for the Classic.
Multiple stakes hero Noble Drama was a good third two prior in the Millions Classic Preview and prepped for this by finishing second at Tampa Bay Downs most recently. The gelded son of Gone Astray is relatively lightly raced with room for improvement over a course that he runs well upon.
Defending champ Jay’s Way, last-out Zia Park Championship Handicap victor Forevamo, 2018 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G2) runner-up Dalmore, trainer Stanley Gold’s stakes-placed Weisser and longshot claimer Transistor round out the field.
Multiple Grade 3 winner X Y Jet will be the prohibitive favorite for the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint while going for a defense of his title and third win in the race overall. The Jorge Navarro trainee is among the top sprinters in training and has posted some swift morning drills in advance of his comeback effort.
The gray son of Kantharos has finished second twice in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Stakes (G1) and boasts a fine 12-6-4-1 mark on the Gulfstream Park dirt. X Y Jet was a facile winner of the Smile Sprint (G3) when most recently seen in late June of last year. Regular rider Emisael Jaramillo will be atop the seven-year-old gelding once again.
Reason to Soar looms as the main danger to the favorite. The George Weaver pupil is four-for-five at Gulfstream Park and showed big improvement last season. He posted a trio of wins at the venue before crossing the line a clear second (eventually disqualified to fifth for interference) in the Smile Sprint in his 2018 finale. The five-year-old son of Soaring Empire gets the services of Jose Ortiz.
A baker’s dozen of fillies and mares are set for the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf. Defending champ Starship Jubilee drew widest in the field but rates a huge chance with her best for conditioner Kevin Attard.
The Indy Wind mare was a stylish heroine of Woodbine’s Canadian Stakes (G2) in September and has trained well in preparation of her 2019 bow. The bay six-year-old is a sharp seven-for-14 on the Gulfstream turf and will have Javier Castellano in the irons.
Stakes vixen Picara is one of three in the field for trainer Todd Pletcher. The four-year-old daughter of Turbo Compressor led throughout to post a convincing score in the Millions Filly & Mare Turf Preview Stakes in November. The bay miss draws just off the rail and will be showing speed beneath go-to pilot John Velazquez.
The Jeremiah Englehart-trained Mrs. Ramona G. has rolled home to win three straight on the lawn, including a healthy allowance/optional claiming score on the Gulfstream Park sod. The four-year-old daughter of Kantharos retains the services of leading pilot Luis Saez and will be forwardly placed early on.
Southern Sis and Warranty, who were second and third, respectively, in the Filly & Mare Turf Preview, also have to be given a chance in this big field.
A field of nine, with one being a main track-only entrant, will vie in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf. Multiple stakes winner Big Changes is cross-entered in the Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap at Fair Grounds on the same day but would be the one to beat if he opts for this event. The Brad Cox trainee has been second in his last pair of outings, including the River City Handicap (G2) two prior. The in-form son of Midshipman has been first or second in nine of his previous 10 turf races. Javier Castellano has the assignment on Saturday.
Archer Road annexed a pair of stakes races on the Gulfstream lawn in 2018 and draws the rail for trainer Stanley Gold. The five-year-old gelding will have Jeffrey Sanchez at the controls. Second Mate will make a first run since being claimed for $35,000 by conditioner Jorge Abreu in December. The Mizzen Mast gelding finished third in this event last campaign.
He’s Bankable captured the English Channel Stakes on the course last May and can’t be ignored for trainer Mark Casse. Stakes winner Salute the Colonel gets leading jockey Luis Saez and should receive a nice pace to rally into as one of the top closing types in the field.