March 20, 2019

Quijote capitalizes on Sunshine Millions Sprint pace meltdown; X Y Jet fourth

Quijote and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. win the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park on January 19, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Quijote appeared to be tilting at windmills in Saturday’s $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, but the 23-1 shot had the last laugh. After 1-2 favorite X Y Jet succumbed in a dogfight with Ray’swarrior, Quijote took advantage of the pace meltdown to win going away at Gulfstream Park.

Making his first start for Georgina Baxter and patiently handled by Irad Ortiz Jr., the Pomeroy gelding conserved energy early while the leaders went all out. Two-time Sprint champ X Y Jet did not break alertly, then hustled to join the fast-starting Ray’swarrior, and the battle was on. The speedsters opened up a sizable lead on the rest of the field through punishing fractions of :21.09 and :43.54.

Turning for home, the race-fit Ray’swarrior was traveling better than comebacker X Y Jet, who was under the whip in his first start since June 30. The odds-on favorite boxed on gamely in upper stretch until he could find no more. Both were now slowing at the five-furlong mark in :56.35, but X Y Jet yielded first and Ray’swarrior struck the front.

Meanwhile, Quijote was rallying out in the center of the track. Ray’swarrior was spent himself by this point, the proverbial sitting duck as Quijote blew past by 3 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:09.98 for six furlongs.

Ray’swarrior held second from the deep-closing Sweetontheladies, who finished third in the Sunshine Millions Sprint for the second straight year. X Y Jet retreated to fourth in this intended prep for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), and it remains to be seen if he’ll advance to Dubai World Cup night. Reason to Soar and the 99-1 shot Springmeier rounded out the order under the wire.

Quijote, a distant fifth to X Y Jet in last year’s edition of this race, improved his scorecard to 24-8-4-1, $395,065. The six-year-old was scoring his third stakes victory, following the Big Drama and Millions Sprint Preview in 2017. He’d also placed in the 2016 Jimmy Winkfield and Robert Hilton Memorial and added a third in the 2018 Trinniberg.

The Sunshine Millions events were otherwise friendly to favorites.

Souper Tapit and jockey John Velazquez prevail in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on January 19, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

Souper Tapit had to work as the 3-2 choice in the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, but the Live Oak Plantation homebred saw off stubborn pacesetter Jay’s Way and Dalmore. Cleverly ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who kept Dalmore pocketed at the crucial stage, the Mark Casse trainee got up by a half-length to finish 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.62.

A blueblood son of Tapit and the Grade 1-winning Hard Spun mare Zo Impressive, Souper Tapit was a promising three-year-old of 2017. He was sidelined after landing the Marine (G3) at Woodbine, however, and it took him a while to return to his best in the allowance ranks in 2018. Souper Tapit turned the corner with a nine-length demolition job at Gulfstream in December.

Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano turned the turf double, guiding 4-5 favorite Big Changes in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf and even-money Starship Jubilee in the companion race for distaffers.

Big Changes, trained by Brad Cox for Steve Landers Racing, compiled a career year in 2018. The Midshipman gelding began the season with a five-race winning streak highlighted by the West Virginia Speaker’s Cup, Unbridled S. at Louisiana Downs, and a repeat score in John Henry at Evangeline Downs. A half-length runner-up in the River City (G3), he was best of the rest behind Great Wide Open in Fair Grounds’ Buddy Diliberto Memorial last out.

Cross-entered to the Col. E.R. Bradley back at Fair Grounds Saturday, Big Changes was pointed here instead, and lorded it over fellow Florida-breds. The chestnut worked out a stalk-and-pounce trip, forged ahead by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths, and clocked 1 1/16 firm-turf miles in 1:40.48.

Defending champion Starship Jubilee had a rougher go of it early in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf, but none of it could put a dent in her superiority. Breaking through the gate before the start, and hung out wide early from post 13, the Kevin Attard mare executed a tactical retreat into fourth.

As the field rounded the far turn, Starship Jubilee cruised up to take command, and under top weight of 123 pounds, flaunted her class in a 4 1/2-length decision. The Blue Heaven Farm colorbearer negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.33 to become the second to repeat in this race. The first was Valentine Dancer (2004-05), under its old guise of pitting Florida and Cal-breds in lucrative stakes split between Santa Anita and Gulfstream.

A Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s champion turf female of 2017, Starship Jubilee captured that year’s Nassau (G2) and Dance Smartly (G2). The Indy Wind mare was not in the same form when returning to Woodbine last spring, but regained her groove to annex the 2018 Canadian (G2). She was exiting a pair of fourths in the E.P. Taylor (G1) and Claiming Crown Tiara.