Hobeau Farm’s homebred Delightful Kiss has been in top form for more than five months and all things being equal, the 5-year-old gelding would be the one to beat in the $1-milllion OBS Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park. But the son of Kissin Kris drew unenviable post 12 in the 1 1/8-mile main track event, severely compromising his chances of besting the other 11 rivals who will go to post.
The Classic, which is the feature of an eight-race Sunshine Millions program that matches Florida-breds against California-breds, drew an overflow field of 15. Only two of the Classic entrants – Medzendeekron and Nima’s Pad – were bred in California.
Post time for the Classic, the last of four Sunshine Millions races run at Gulfstream, is set for 5:37 p.m. EDT. The other four races will be at Santa Anita Park. This will be the seventh running of the coast-to-coast event.
Trained by 77-year-old Pete Anderson, Delightful Kiss has been terrific beginning with consecutive wins in the Turfway Park Fall Championship (gr. III) and All American Stakes (gr. III) at Golden Gate last fall. A solid fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita and runner-up performance in the Clark Handicap (gr. II) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs followed.
In his 5-year-old debut Jan. 3 at Gulfstream, Delightful Kiss recorded a sensational last-to-first victory in the Hal’s Hope Handicap (gr. III), as he came flying down the stretch under Calvin Borel to post a three-length score. The gray-roan horse, who is out of the French Deputy mare Deputy's Delight, earned a career-high 102 Beyer Speed Figure in that contest.
The 12 post in the Classic is particularly unattractive due to the short run to the first turn at Gulfstream. But because of Delightful Kiss' running style, it might not be as dire as it would for some.
"He runs best in the latter part of the races, so as long we’re in there, we’ll have a shot," Anderson said.
Borel will be back aboard Florida-bred Delightful Kiss, who is 7-4-2 from 23 starts with earnings of $882,873.
Delightful Kiss’ top rivals are also Florida-breds, including 4-year-olds Atoned, Macho Again and Hey Byrn, all colts who were prominent on the Triple Crown trail a year ago.
Dogwood Stable’s Atoned enters off a nose victory in the nine-furlong Pegasus Handicap (gr. III) Oct. 24 at Meadowlands, his first win in 11 starts. A son of Repent, Atoned was runner-up in the Remsen (gr. II) as a 2-year-old, and also finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) as a sophomore. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Atoned has been training well at Palm Meadows this winter, his last work Jan. 18 when he went four furlongs in :48.40. Chris DeCarlo will get the mount.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again makes his season debut after producing a 3-2-0 record frm 10 starts as a 3-year-old. Best known for finishing runner-up to Big Brown in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Macho Again also won the Jim Dandy (gr. II) at Saratoga in July. The Macho Uno colt turned in a poor effort in his last start, finishing more than 11 lengths back in sixth in the Woodchopper Stakes Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds. Kent Desormeaux will ride for Dallas Stewart.
Bea Oxenberg’s Hey Byrn, winner of the Holy Bull (gr. III) last April at Gulfstream, showed his return to form last out when romping to a 4 1/4-length score in optional claiming company Jan. 11 at Gulfstream while earning a career-best Beyer of 99. Seventh in the Preakness, Hey Byrn has won five of 13 starts for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., who stables the Put It Back colt at Calder Race Course.
"He has shown an affinity for this racetrack, I think he's won four of five at Gulfstream," Plesa said. "We were certainly pleased with his last race. He had some bad luck last summer; he got sick before the Haskell and the other two races he was in just to get fit.
"Things aren't ideal for him here; he's coming back on 13 days rest and he won't get Edgar Prado, who he really fits with. But Cornelio Velasquez doesn't take a back seat to anyone. Any time you're in a $1 million race it's tough, but he's certainly improving. It would be nice to win this race for the owner, who won the inaugural running of the Classic (Best of the Rest, 2003)."
Also worth considering are East Coast invader Dry Martini, who won the Stuyvesant Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct two starts back, and Finallymadeit, a winner of a pair of 1 1/8-mile stakes at Calder last winter before tiring to finish eighth in the Hal’s Hope earlier this month.
On Board Again, Solemn Promise and Pistol Pete Afleet are also-eligibles.