Diamond Stripes, a Florida-bred 5-year-old Notebook gelding won last year’s Meadowland Cup (gr. II) and is coming off a third-place finish in Churchill Downs' Clark Handicap (gr. II) Nov. 23. The gray, trained by Richard Dutrow, has captured five of 10 career starts for Four Roses Thoroughbreds while earning $795,645. He drew the rail as the 7-2 morning line pick with Cornelio Velasquez his rider.
The Classic field includes three millionaires -- Buzzards Bay, Go Between and defending Sunshine Millions Classic winner McCann’s Mojave. The 8-year-old California-bred son of Memo registered a shocker one year ago when taking the 1 1/8-mile event at odds of 33-1 for owner-breeder Mike Willman, the director of publicity at Santa Anita.
McCann’s Mojave, trained by Steve Specht with Frank Alvarado his regular rider, has won once since the 2007 Sunshine Millions Classic. He took Golden Gate’s All-American (gr. III) on Nov. 17. He tops the field with $1,361,555 in earnings from a career record of 11-2-0 in 30 races.
The accomplished sprinter Bilo, winner of Hollywood Park's Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) last July, will ensure a solid pace. But the 8-year-old Bertrando gelding should have company on the front end from multiple graded winner Gottcha Gold, potentially setting things up for a stalking type such as Diamond Stripes, Buzzards Bay or Go Between.
“My theory is, if you’re going to try and run a horse long, sometimes they run their best race the first time, and this is a million dollar race, so why not try it?” said trainer Mike Mitchell, who saddled Texcess to a third-place finish in the 2006 Classic.
Mitchell trains Bilo for Scott and Wayne Anastasi and Dan Capen, who purchased the horse privately after the death of previous owner Ed Nahem.
Bilo has a 7-2-2 record from 15 starts, including a win in the California Cup Sprint Handicap in his most recent race Nov. 3. Tyler Baze has been named to ride Bilo for the first time in the Classic.
Buzzards Bay, winner of the 2005 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) has struggled recently, finishing seventh in the All American and ninth last time out in the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park for trainer Ron Ellis. The 6-year-old Buzzards Bay, a Florida bred by Marco Bay, has won $1,357,907 in a 22-race career that includes seven victories.
The Bill Mott trainee Go Between has earned most of his $1,253,880 on turf, but Peter Vegso's 5-year-old Florida-bred Point Given horse has a victory in his only synthetic track effort. That came Oct. 28 in the nine-furlong Fayette Stakes (gr. III) over Keeneland's Polytrack course.
Second choice at 5-1 in the contentious field is another Florida-bred, Padua Stable’s homebred Electrify, a winner of nine of 20 overall for trainer Edward Plesa, including his last pair. Electrify captured the Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III) last time out at Calder Racecourse on Dec. 15. The 5-year-old Delaware Township gelding has earned $621,890.
Celtic Dreamin, a California-bred son of Game Plan owned by K.K. Sangara of Custer, Wash., has never been worse than second in eight career starts, winning five times. He has earned $334,663 and has victories ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.
“The race looks like it’s going to be tough, but we’re tough, too,” trainer Rafael Becerra said.
Celtic Dreamin was beaten a half-length by Millions Classic rival Bold Chieftain in last fall's California Cup Classic over the course at the distance.
Gottcha Gold, also trained by Plesa, comes off a second-place finish to Corinthian in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at sloppy Monmouth Park Oct. 26. He won both the Salvator MIle (gr. III) and the Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup (gr. III) over the same track last year.
“I think Gottcha Gold is a horse that’s proven himself,” Plesa said, “although a lot of people would look at his past performances and think that Monmouth is his race track. I’m not so naïve as to think that’s the case. He’s trained well on the Gulfstream (Park) surface and this is the right place for him to run.”
Harris Farms' homebred Now Victory comes in with back-to-back victories for trainer Dean Pederson, including a gate-to-wire triumph in the Forty Niner at Golden Gate Fields Dec. 26.
Going Ballistic won both the Super Derby (gr. II) and Oklahoma Derby last year.
$1 Million Sunshine Millions Classic (Race 7, 2:46 p.m.), 4 & Up Bred in California and Florida, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Diamond Stripes (FL), Cornelio H. Velasquez, 7/2
2. Bilo (CA), Tyler Baze, 8/1
3. Buzzards Bay (FL), Jose Valdivia, Jr., 8/1
4. Bold Chieftain (CA), David R. Flores, 10/1
5. Celtic Dreamin (CA), Alex O. Solis, 8/1
6. Now Victory (CA), Mike E. Smith, 12/1
7. Seminole Native (CA), Michael C. Baze, 12/1
8. Electrify (FL), Eddie Castro, 5/1
9. Go Between (FL), Garrett K. Gomez, 8/1
10. McCann's Mojave (CA), Frank T. Alvarado, 12/1
11. Going Ballistic (FL), Joseph Talamo, 15/1
12. Gottcha Gold (FL), Charles C. Lopez, 8/1
13. Joy's Comet (CA), Tyler Baze, 30/1
14. Better Than Bonds (FL), Jeremy Rose, 30/1
Each assigned 122 pounds, except Celtic Dreamin (120).