Classy Soldier's Dancer, far back for most of the journey, closed with a rush to overtake Presious Passion in the final 50 yards, winning the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf (VIDEO) at a soggy Santa Anita Park Jan. 24.
Ridden for the first time by Rafael Bejarano, Soldier's Dancer soared past the million-dollar mark in career earnings with his half-length win, which was contested at nine furlongs on yielding ground. Owned by Herman Heinlein and trained by David Vivian, the 5-year-old Florida-bred son of Lost Soldier earned his eighth stakes victory as the 7-5 choice in the 13-horse field.
The gray gelding settled at the rear of the pack as Liberian Freighter hustled to the front and set a solid pace with Victory Pete and Presious Passion in close pursuit. Quarter-mile fractions were :23.76, :47.29 and 1:11.58 as Soldier's Dancer lagged some 20 lengths off the lead. Victory Pete challenged Liberian Freighter in upper stretch, but both began to labor through the lane and Presious Passion, ridden by Elvis Trujillo, grabbed the lead mid-stretch and opened up a clear advantage.
But Soldier's Dancer, still 10 lengths behind at the top of the lane, closed with determination on the outside to win under right-handed urging from Bejarano, passing six horses in the final furlong to get up in time. The final clocking was 1:49.64.
“I really wasn’t worried because he was so far back early," Bejarano said. "It’s the style of the horse. He likes to come from behind like this. I always felt comfortable because I knew I had a lot of horse. I made a move from the five-eighths to the half-mile to get my position. After that, he started running, and he has a big, big kick.”
Presious Passion finished second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of 50-1 shot Unusual Suspect, who closed well for Joe Talamo. Victory Pete was 2 1/4 lengths farther behind in fourth.
Second to War Monger in last year's Sunshine Millions Turf when it was hosted by Gulfstream Park, trainer Vivian had been targeting this year's race for several months. Soldier's Dancer had not been out since Dec. 6, when his late charge came up a nose short in the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder Race Course. Soldier's Dancer's last win came by four lengths in Calder's Miami Mile Handicap (gr. IIIT) Oct. 18.
The Sunshine Million Turf is Soldier's Dancer richest victory, worth $275,000, and improved his career mark to 10-7-4 in 28 starts. The three-time grade III winner has earnings of $1,227,480.
“I love this horse," said Steve Vivian, who assists his father. "My father will tell you, this horse wouldn’t be the horse he is without me. I get to the barn at 2 a.m. and I take care of him. He’s got a heart like this (hand-motioning several feet wide).”
Bred by Franks Farm, Soldier's Dancer is out of the Gate Dancer mare Heather's Dancer.
Soldier's Dancer paid $4.80, $3 and $3.
Presious Passion, a grade I winner shipping from Florida for trainer Mary Hartmann, returned $8.20 and $6.40.
“I thought I was going to win it there for while," Trujillo said of the runner-up. "My horse tried so hard. I had a perfect trip. My horse relaxed. He handled the turf conditions. The other horse just ran better today. That’s racing.”
“I’m thrilled, I’m absolutely thrilled," Hartmann said. "He did everything but win and it’s not his preferred distance. The ground might have been a little soft (for him), but he handled it well and I thought he ran super, to get beat like that.”
Unusual Suspect paid $19.20 to show.
Victory Pete, Seminole Native, Mr. Chairman, Icy Atlantic, Jack's Wild, Liberian Freighter, Epic Power, Swift Winds, Lucky J.H. and Screen to Screen completed the order. Pistol Pete Afleet scratched.