Wildcat Red and East Hall Square Off in Sunshine Classic
Only six were entered in Saturday's $250,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, the highlight event on the Florida Sunshine Million card, but two of those runners will be renewing a rivalry that began on New Year's Day 2014 in the Gulfstream Park Derby.
Wildcat Red just missed by a head in that contest, and 2 1/4 lengths behind the bay colt in third was East Hall. The duo met off and on throughout the rest of the year, with Wildcat Red finishing in front on each occasion except for the last.
East Hall finally got the better of his opponent in the Millions Classic Preview on November 8, his final start as a three-year-old and his third win from four starts. Those other two wins were nice scores in the Ohio Derby and Grade 2 Indiana Derby for trainer Bill Kaplan.
East Hall was given a couple months off over the winter and returned to training at Gulfstream in late December, posting three swift works including a :59 4/5 clocking for five furlongs on January 10.
"I think there is room for improvement," Kaplan said in regards to his Graeme Hall trainee. "He really wants classic distances. We haven't run him farther than a mile and an eighth, and he's the type of horse that wants a mile and a quarter. He can run all day long. He’s got a wonderful cardio-vascular system and his demeanor helps him. He wants to go long, and I think he'll be best at classic distances."
Luis Saez, aboard for East Hall's past two victories, has piloted Wildcat Red as well but sticks with East Hall in this one.
Wildcat Red will get the services of jockey Joel Rosairo for the first time on Saturday. The Jose Garoffalo pupil is looking for a return to the winner's circle after placing in three of his past four races, including the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby. Like East Hall, the four-year-old competed last in the Millions Classic Preview and has been working well in advance of his 2015 bow.
"I think the track is a factor here that helps him. His speed helps him on this track. The surface is best for him. It's better for him that he doesn't have to ship to race," Garoffalo said. "That's an advantage when you race on your home track and you have a horse that likes the track.
"He has the spirit of a fighter. He likes to be out front fighting with another horse. It makes him better, more aggressive. From now on, my instructions are going to be, 'Go to the lead. Don't worry about the fractions.'
"Personally, it's a gift to have a horse like that, especially for a guy like me who can't invest too much money in buying horses," Garoffalo added. "It's very rewarding because we have to pick a horse in our budget."
Transparent is one of the remaining four Classic entrants, and will try to upset the expected match-up between East Hall and Wildcat Red. The Bernardini five-year-old competed just three times last year, with two coming in the fall following a trip to Dubai which resulted in a fourth-placing against listed rivals. Transparent was unable to factor in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap in his 2014 finale, but could rebound here under jockey Javier Castellano.
Multiple stakes scorer I'm Stepping' It Up ran fourth in the Millions Classic Preview at 33-1, while Catholic Cowboy captured the Claiming Crown Jewel over track and nine-furlong distance last out. They'll be looking for a share of the purse, as will multiple stakes winner Sr. Quisqueyano, who will be making his first start for trainer Peter Walder after being claimed last out.
While the Classic only drew six, all bred in Florida, three of the other stakes attracted an abundance of runners. The Florida Sunshine Millions event was expanded in 2015 to include Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania-breds in addition to horses bred in Florida.
Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap scorer Dame Dorothy will try to get back on the winning track after suffering her first career loss when third in the Grade 3 Comely Stakes on November 29. Also in with a chance are Swinger's Party and Flutterby, the respective top two in the Millions Distaff Preview; Grade 3 heroine Devil's Cave, Grade 1-placed and second in the Distaff a year ago; and Grade 1-placed stakes diva My Pal Chrisy, runner-up in the Florida Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint in 2014.
Ten, including two New York-breds, will line up in the $100,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf at 1 1/16 miles on Gulfstream's green. Bad Debt has captured the Millions Turf Preview for the past two years but was fourth in the 2013 Turf and third by a half-length last year.
"I hope this is his year," trainer Michael Trombetta said of his eight-year-old charge. "Hopefully, he's a good fit in the race. He comes into the race in good order. In the little bit of racing we've been able to get out of him this fall, he's run well for us."
Bad Debt will face off against multiple Grade 3-placed stakes hero Decisive Moment and Grade 1-placed Reporting Star, among others.
The $100,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf drew 11 -- with three Pennsylvania-breds and one each from New York and Maryland -- while the $100,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Sprint attracted only seven, including a New York-bred. The Filly & Mare Turf features a cross-entry from Dame Dorothy, with two-for-two Yogi Berra taking center stage in the Sprint.
"Actually, she is bred very much for the turf on the bottom side, so it is a consideration," trainer Todd Pletcher said in regards to Dame Dorothy going in the Filly & Mare Turf.