John Piesen's Derby Top Ten:
|1. Lookin at Lucky
|2. Winslow Homer
|3. Buddy's Saint
|4. Noble's Promise
|5. Jackson Bend
|8. Ron the Greek
Soldier's Dancer bids for title defense in Sunshine Millions Turf
Multiple Grade 3 winner SOLDIER'S DANCER (Lost Soldier) had to ship across the country and reel in Presious Passion (Royal Anthem) to capture the 2009 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita, but neither of those obstacles will be in his way in Saturday's renewal of the $300,000 event. This time, the Turf will take place at Gulfstream Park, a short jaunt away from Soldier's Dancer's home base of Calder. Nor will he have to face Presious Passion, who is resting at the moment in advance of his trip to Dubai.
The 1 1/8-mile Turf is one of three Sunshine Millions events hosted by Gulfstream Park, with the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff and the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint also on tap at the Hallandale Beach, Florida, venue. Although the intent is to pit Florida-breds versus California-breds, only one Golden State-bred has been entered at Gulfstream Saturday. That lone contestant is an outsider in the Turf, leaving all three races open to Floridian domination.
Soldier's Dancer is trying to become the first two-time winner of the Sunshine Millions Turf in its brief eight-year history. The David Vivian charge has been a remarkably consistent performer over the past couple of years, and he has finished in the top two in eight of his last 10 starts. A confirmed closer, Soldier's Dancer brings a two-race winning streak into his title defense. The gray gelding captured the P.T.H.A. President's Cup S. for the second straight year at Philadelphia Park in September, and in his only subsequent start, he got up in time to nab PICKAPOCKET (Mecke) in the Bonnie Heath Turf Cup H. at Calder in November.
Despite his proximity to Gulfstream, Soldier's Dancer has raced there only three times in his career. The last time he vanned over was for the 2008 Sunshine Millions Turf, where he finished a rallying second to War Monger. Regular rider Manoel Cruz, who was not aboard Soldier's Dancer in his past Sunshine Millions efforts, will be in the saddle as he breaks from post 8.
Filling the front-running role of Presious Passion could be JET PROPULSION (Double Honor), a Grade 3 veteran who will be making his first start off the claim for Marty Wolfson. The seven-year-old gelding has won his past two versus lesser, and was haltered for $50,000 at Calder last out. Jet Propulsion picks up the services of Julien Leparoux, who will try to improve his mount's poor record at the nine-furlong distance (3-0-0-0). WICKED STYLE (Macho Uno), winner of the 2007 Breeders' Futurity (G1) and most recently fourth in the River City H. (G3) at Churchill Downs, also has some early foot.
Two newly-turned four-year-olds are moving from dirt to turf in this spot. DUKE OF MISCHIEF (Graeme Hall), an impressive winner of last year's Iowa Derby, bounced back to form with a victory in the off-the-turf Ft. Lauderdale S. (G3) at Gulfstream. Pegasus S. (G3) victor BAD ACTION (Brahms), who comes off a runner-up effort in the Discovery H. (G3), will make his debut for Todd Pletcher. The gelding does have prior experience over the grass, however, compiling a 6-3-1-0 turf mark for former trainer Gary Contessa.
The only California-bred entrant, TIE ROD (Old Topper), comes by way of Turf Paradise, where he won the Hank Mills Sr. H. two back.
Note that Bad Action and Wicked Style are both cross-entered to the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita.
The Sunshine Millions Distaff, held at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, features the streaking Calder filly SWEET REPENT (Repent) in search of her fifth straight victory. After photo-finish scores in an allowance/optional claimer and the Judy's Red Shoes S., the David Braddy trainee defeated JESSICA IS BACK (Put It Back) by 3 1/4 lengths in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff H. Sweet Repent experienced another close call last time out in the Stage Door Betty H. (G3), just nipping AMAZING (Greatness) by a nose in the final strides.
The nine-furlong trip is brand new territory for all three. Amazing and Jessica Is Back figure to set up shop on the front end and try to stay the distance, while Sweet Repent projects a stalk-and-pounce trip.
Graded stakes veteran UNFORGOTTEN (Northern Afleet) and accomplished turf runner SCOLARA (Quiet American) are qualified to crash the Calder reunion party. Unforgotten, third in last year's Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita, has since placed second in the Allaire duPont Distaff S. (G2), Chicago H. (G3) and Kentucky Cup Distaff S. (G3). The Dallas Stewart mare outclassed her opponents in the Treasure Chest S. at Delta Downs two back, and she exits a clear second to War Echo (Tapit) in the 1 1/8-mile Daily Racing Form Distaff S. at Fair Grounds.
Scolara has raced on the dirt only once in her 17-race career, missing by a nose in an allowance at this track and trip two years ago. The Bill Mott mare has been training sharply on the dirt at Payson Park, and if she can duplicate her turf form on this surface, she looms as a dangerous contender. The winner of a pair of stakes last season, Scolara also boasts six stakes placings behind the likes of Acoma (Empire Maker), Carribean Sunset (Ire) (Danehill Dancer) and Cocoa Beach (Chi).
The six-furlong Sprint shapes up as a brawl between THIS ONES FOR PHIL (Untuttable) and PASHITO THE CHE (Flatter). This Ones for Phil ran two monstrous races in Gulfstream sprints last year, rolling to a 2 1/4-length triumph in the Sunshine Millions Dash S. and being awarded the Swale S. (G2) after a bumping match with Big Drama (Montbrook). The Rick Dutrow trainee returned from a five-month layoff last out in a Laurel allowance/optional claimer, dusting an overmatched group by 3 1/4 lengths.
Pashito the Che improved over the course of 2009 for Scott Lake. Following a 6 1/2-length demolition job in the Commemorate S. at Belmont, he outbattled the exciting Custom for Carlos (More Than Ready) in the Gallant Bob H. at Philly and again showed heart to prevail in the Jack Dudley Sprint H. at Calder. Pashito the Che concluded the season with a photo-finish loss in the Gravesend H. at Aqueduct.
The supporting cast includes Churchill Downs S. (G2) winner ACCREDIT (E Dubai), a close third in the Holiday Cheer S. over Turfway Park's Polytrack in his latest; Grade 3-placed MACHISMO (Trippi), who was runner-up in last year's Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita; SNEAKING UPONYOU (Snuck In), successful in the Pelican S. most recently at Tampa; and multiple stakes winner ROCKERFELLER (Maria's Mon), making his second start off a long vacation for Wolfson.
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