Trainer Paul J. McGee can't help but smile when he talks about the old man of his stable, Bet On Sunshine, as he prepares for his bid for a second consecutive victory in Saturday's $100,000 Aristides Handicap (gr. III).
David Holloway's 9-year-old star figures to be one of the favorites for the 6 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-olds an up. Last year, Bet On Sunshine became the oldest horse to win the Aristides and set a track record in the process. He went on to finish third to Kona Gold in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) on his home track -- a performance that pushed him over the $1-million mark in career earnings.
Bet On Sunshine comes into this year's Aristides off just one race on the year--a runner-up finish in a tough Derby Day allowance race at Churchill Downs--and McGee is not yet ready to say his horse will be as good at age nine as he was at eight.
"I need to see some more races," McGee said. "He looks awful strong to me. I see him as the same horse he was last year. He's very sound."
McGee had hoped to get at least one more race into Bet On Sunshine before the Aristides, but he entered the veteran in several allowance races that did not fill and decided against shipping him to another track for a stakes or allowance race.
"He's a good enough work horse that I'm not going to use that as an excuse," McGee said. "Every time I breeze him he goes in a minute-and-change. Ideally, he'd have another race."
Bet On Sunshine completed his training for the Aristides with a five-furlong breeze on Monday. He covered the distance in 1:00 2/5 over a "fast" track.
Bet On Sunshine has a career record of 18-7-8 in 38 races and has earned $1,108,629.
Churchill Downs racing secretary Jerry Botts has assigned Bet On Sunshine highweight for the 13th running of the race. Botts assigned Bet On Sunshine 120 pounds, one pound more than Eaglestone Farm's Alannan and one more than Bet On Sunshine carried last year.
Alannan has won the Churchill Downs Handicap presented by Lane's End (gr. II) and the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup (gr. II) this year and was third to Exciting Story in his most recent race in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
Other horses considered as possible starters include (with assigned weights): Exchange Rate (114); Chindi (112); Lead Em Home (110); Proven Cure (110); and Dash For Daylight (109).