Racing said good-bye to Jerry Bailey - one of its all-time great riders - in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Cloverleaf Farms Turf at Gulfstream Park, but 48-1 outsider Miesque's Approval and jockey Eddie Castro played the spoilers.
Under an expert ride from Bailey, the 4-5 favorite Silver Tree enjoyed a ground saving trip all the way around in the 1 1/8-mile event and was able to squeeze past the early leaders in mid-stretch. But on the extreme outside, Miesque's Approval surged to the front and held off Silver Tree by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:44 4/5.
The 48-year-old Bailey, given a standing ovation from the fans who serenaded him with "Auld Lang Syne," was shut out in his two Sunshine Millions mounts Saturday.
"You can only hope to get a good spot and wait for a hole to open up," Bailey said. "I guess today it came a bit too late. I guess you could say I went out with a bang, because the horse kicked me in the hip in the paddock. If I weren't in so much pain going into the gate, I probably would have broken down (cried). The crowd has been beautiful. I just hope more of them bet to place than to win."
Bailey was the guest of honor at a party at the track Saturday night, and he smiled and rubbed his sore hip when asked about his retirement plans. "First, soak in some ice," he said.
He won a record seven Eclipse Awards as the nation's best jockey. Bailey retired with 5,893 victories in a 31-year riding career and more than $295 million in North American purse earnings, which ranks second all-time behind Pat Day.
Although he hasn't had much luck recently, the 7-year-old Miesque's Approval, a Florida-bred bay horse by Miesque's Son, went over the $1 million mark in career earnings for owner/breeder Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation. He paid $99.60, $30.40, and $12.60 after being 12-1 on the morning line.
Miesque's Approval, recently transferred to trainer Marty Wolfson's care from Bill Mott – who saddled Silver Tree – could have been claimed for $50,000 Nov. 3 at Aqueduct. He was coming off an even fourth-place effort in the Our Dear Peg Stakes on the Calder turf Dec. 26 in his only start for Wolfson. Ironically, Miesque's Approval is a horse Bailey rode often when he was part of Mott's stable.
"Well, it wasn't exactly the fairy tale ending was it," Mott said. "But it was close."
The winner certainly had some pace to run at. Captain Squire showed best away from the gate, leading Touched by Madness through fractions of :23, :46, 1:09 3/5 and 1:33 1/5. Miesque's Approval, breaking from the inside, took back for Castro and raced at the rear of the 12-horse field to the far turn. He launched an outside bid on the turn and kept coming in the stretch to seize the lead.
"Believe it or not, I loved this horse today," Wolfson said. "He got very sick last November and I had to take him to the hospital, but since I've got him back, he's been training great for the last month. So I really expected him to run well today."
Silver Tree was bottled up on the inside for most of the trip while running in mid-pack and looked like he was going to have problems finding room. But Bailey patiently waited and slipped through on the inside of Captain Squire. Silver Tree finished with interest under mostly hand urging from his Hall of Fame rider but could not get to the winner.
Miesque's Approval improved his career mark to 8-9-5 in 33 starts while recording his first victory since June in the Old Ironsides at Suffolk Downs. Saturday's winning share of $275,000 boosted his earnings to $1,014,474.
The 6-year-old pro Silver Tree, who was coming off a victory in the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder to close out his 2005 campaign in December, returned $3 and $2.40, completing a $238 exacta. Icy Atlantic paid $6.20 to show for the two-time Eclipse-winning duo of rider John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher, suffering his 12th straight defeat.
Stormy Roman finished fourth followed by Dream On Dream On, Captain Squire, We All Love Aleyna, Gin and Sin, Touched by Madness, Eastern Sand, Night Dash, and multiple grade II winner Willow O Wisp, the 9-2 second choice who was steadied on both turns and stopped.