For the majority of the 2008 racing season, trainer Greg Gilchrist was content to enter Wild Promises in minor Northern California turf stakes and watch her make it to the winner’s circle nearly every time. From January to September, the 4-year-old filly won five times and finished runner-up in her other two starts. In the last victory – the Miss America Stakes – Wild Promises set the 1 1/8-mile turf course record at Golden Gate Fields.
After seeing that, Gilchrist decided it was time for his talented filly to take another step.
“I saw some other horses that she was outrunning going on to run well at Santa Anita and in graded stakes,” Gilchrist said. “So I told (owner Harry Aleo) we should probably try more since she was running very well at the time.”
Gilchrist’s instincts were spot on, as he shipped Wild Promises across country to run in the $100,000 My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT) Dec. 6 at Calder Race Course. Against a very good field that included Callwood Dancer and Rutherienne, the daughter of Wild Event continued her success when taking the grass race by a length.
On Jan. 24, Wild Promises will take yet another step and try for her biggest payday to date, as she’ll do battle with seven rivals in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/8-mile contest is the second Millions event of the day at Gulfstream and part of an eight-race Millions program that pits Florida-breds against California-breds. The other four races will be held at Santa Anita Park.
Wild Promises, now a 5-year-old, will ride a five-race win streak into the race. Aaron Gryder will get the return call on the bay mare, who was bred in Florida by the late Arthur Appleton. Remarkably, she has never finished out of the money in 16 career starts, 11 of which have been wins. She has earned $383,610.
“She’s a horse we don’t run a whole lot; we like to space out her races,” Gilchrist said. “We let her tell us when it’s time to run. She’s doing great now. She arrived in Florida earlier this week.
“Looking at the Form, it’ll probably be more of the same in this race as it was in the My Charmer, and on paper, the My Charmer was probably a tougher race. The distance is fine and the surface is certainly fine, so we’ll see. As far as a pace scenario, she likes to be forwardly placed. If nobody wants the lead we’ll take it, but she can also lay off the pace and adapt to anything.”
Bel Air Sizzle, the only California-bred horse to make the trek across country for the Filly & Mare Turf, has the most back class in the field. The 4-year-old Unusual Heat filly has tried graded stakes company in her last six starts, and although she does not have a win to show for it, she has placed in half of those efforts.
Two starts ago, Bel Air Sizzle was runner-up by two lengths in the Aug. 16 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT). Earlier in the season, she missed by three parts of a length in the grade II Honeymoon Handicap on the Hollywood grass. Chantel Sutherland will ride for Barry Abrams.
Also with a chance is Elusive Lady, a grade II winner on dirt who finished sixth in her turf debut earlier this month at Gulfstream, and Zip Trick, who romped by seven lengths in a Dec. 26 allowance race on the Tampa Bay Downs turf.
The other three Millions races on the Gulfstream program are the Dash, Filly & Mare Sprint and the Classic.
The Dash, for 3-year-olds going six furlongs on dirt, seems to be a wide-open affair, with a possible edge going to Kramer Stables’ You Luckie Mann. A Florida-bred who won the 5 1/2-furlong Birdonthewire Stakes at Calder by 11 lengths in October while earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure, You Lucky Mann was a distant second to Notonthesamepage in the Spectacular Bid Jan.3 at Gulfstream.
The top California horse in the Dash may be All Saint, winner of the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes Dec. 26 at Santa Anita.
The Dash, with a post time of 4:07 p.m. EDT, begins the Millions action.
The Filly & Mare Sprint, at six furlongs on the dirt, is led by grade I winners Dearest Trickski and Mistical Plan. Stronach Stables’ 5-year-old Dearest Trickski won the La Brea (gr. I) at Santa Anita as a sophomore and also won consecutive graded stakes in California in 2008. The John Sadler trainee hasn’t raced on traditional dirt since October 2007 even though she was bred in Florida.
J. Paul Reddam’s Mistical Plan won the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) two starts back at Calder by nearly six lengths. But this will be her first start since August when she finished a tiring sixth in the Ballerina (gr. I) at Saratoga. The California-bred mare is trained by Doug O’Neill.
Others to consider in the Filly & Mare Sprint are Barry Abrams’ late-blooming 4-year-old Flashover, who is undefeated in two starts, and Bobby Frankel trainee Lovely Isle, a winner of five of 12 lifetime starts who was also runner-up in the Las Virgenes (gr. I) last year.