The front-running Star Over the Bay enhanced his reputation for being tough to beat in the stretch, holding off a determined A to the Z in a grueling stretch duel to win the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita Park Saturday.
Trained by Mike Mitchell, the 7-year-old gray/roan gelding, a grade I winner at Santa Anita in October, refused to give in to the favorite, coming back for a half-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile turf event. The final time was 1:48 2/5 on a good course.
"Every time you think he's beat he gives you that much more," Mitchell said. "I was a little worried about the turf being a little soft but it looked like he handled that fine. I'm out of words."
His last race was an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) on a yielding turf that he did not care for.
Jockey Tyler Baze had to use a little of Star Over the Bay early, crossing over from his extreme outside post going to the clubhouse turn in order to gain his customary spot on the front end. The Florida-bred son of Cozzene
made the lead and soon opened up a 2 1/2-length lead while setting a moderate pace. He maintained his solid advantage into the stretch, when he had to dig down after briefly giving up the lead to the late-running challenger.
"Unbelievable, that horse. Unreal," said an enthused Baze. "He just takes a hold and every time I hit him left handed he just gives me everything he's got. In one stride, he just goes.
"A to the Z came up and went by me by a neck at least. That's when I hit him left-handed and he laid it down and gave it everything he had. It's just really exciting to be able to ride him."
A to the Z, seventh on the far turn for Victor Espinoza, rallied powerfully on the outside and looked like a winner in deep stretch. Silver Tree, with Jerry Bailey guiding the way, closed gamely on the outside after slipping through between rivals on the turn to finish another half-length behind in third place.
Continental Red nosed Icy Atlantic for fourth, followed by Union Place, Cheiron, Super Strut, Bob's Proud Moment, Skywalker Red, G P Fleet, and Running Free.
Star Over the Bay set fractions of :22 3/5, :46 4/5, 1:10 4/5 and 1:35 2/5.
In winning for the 10th time in 41 career tries, he earned $275,000 for owners G Racing – Phil Kelly, Carl F. VanBurger and Landon Vaughn. His connections claimed him in May for $80,000 and since then he has won the Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT), the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) and the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. IT). The victory pushed his total earnings to $913,353.
The third choice in the field, he paid a generous $11.80, $5.40 and $3.60. A to the Z returned $4 and $2.60. Silver Tree's show was $2.80.