Go Between's late-running victory in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita gave trainer Bill Mott his third victory in the eight-race series for California and Florida breds Jan. 26.
It also completed a decisive victory for Florida breds over their California counterparts. Florida won seven of the eight-race series with total purses of $3.6 million to win the bi-coastal event for the sixth straight year.
But at Santa Anita, that was okay. Officials were just glad to get their four races in under sunny and windy conditions after canceling racing the preceding two days because of inclement weather and a non-draining Cushion Track racing surface. Santa Anita has lost five days of racing since the meet began Dec. 26.
Ridden by 2007 Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez, Peter Vegso's homebred Go Between closed with a rush from deep in the pack to win by two lengths over a game Celtic Dreamin in a Cushion Track record time of 1:45.64 for nine furlongs.
Seminole Native, another late closer, got up for third in the 12-horse field by a neck over Diamond Stripes, the 2-1 favorite who rallied mildly to finish fourth, nearly nine lengths behind the winner.
Go Between angled in and raced slightly off the rail in 10th for the opening half-mile, before swinging wide on the final turn and rallying while five paths wide through the lane. Go Between and Celtic Dreamin, ridden by Alex Solis, hooked up near the eighth pole, but Go Between proved best under much urging.
“I was concerned about the dirt coming back," Gomez said. "I wanted to make sure he got his confidence and was comfortable running into it. My horse was traveling well, and the pace was decent. When I swung him out around the turn, he really cut and went to running.”
The grade I winning Bilo, dueling with Now Victory, defending champion McCann's Mojave, and Gottcha Gold, set a hot pressured pace of :22.73, :45.10 and 1:08.08 before wilting in the final furlong and finishing sixth. None of the front-runners remained in contention.
The millionaire Go Between, a 5-year-old son of Point Given, has made his reputation running on the grass. But he is now undefeated in two starts on synthetic racing surfaces as well, having captured the Fayette Stakes (gr. III) on Keeneland's Polytrack last fall.
The victory, worth $550,000 to the winning connections, swelled Go Between's bankroll to $1,803,880. The consistent chestnut has won seven of 22 lifetime starts with four seconds and six third-place finishes. Go Between was last seen finishing sixth in the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Calder grass course Dec. 1.
In a terrific day for the Hall of Fame trainer Mott, his other victories were in the $500,000 Filly and Mare Turf with Quite a Bride at Santa Anita and the $500,000 Turf with Vegso's War Monger at Florida's Gulfstream Park. Gomez also rode Quite a Bride to a slight upset over Nashoba's Key.
Mott said he was not feeling any pressure in the Classic because he had already taken two races and Vegso had won with his homebred War Monger.
"He’ll probably get a week in the round pen and roll around in the sand," Mott said of Go Between. "We don’t have to do anything with him in any hurry. We’re under no pressure to get into any race. At this point, because he ran so well on the Cushion Track, we’d have to think about the Santa Anita Handicap, but we’re in no hurry.
"You imagine days like this.I was not surprised by War Monger. I was not surprised by the filly (Quite a Bride), although they really must have a great turf course out there because she really loves firm turf, and with all the weather they had, it must have been in great shape to have been something she liked.”
A lukewarm second choice, Go Between paid $12, $6.60, and $4.60. Celtic Dreamin, winner of the British Columbia Derby (Can-III) in September for trainer Rafael Becerra, returned $9.80 and $6.20, capping a $2 exacta worth $139.60. Seminole Native, ridden by Michael Baze, was another six lengths behind while paying $10.20 to show.
Celtic Dreamin will be pointed to the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on March 1, Becerra said.
Diamond Stripes was followed by Buzzards Bay, Bilo, Bold Chieftain, Electrify, Gottcha Gold, McCann's Mojave, Now Victory, and Going Ballistic. The also eligible horses, Joy's Comet and Better Than Bonds, were scratched.
“He broke good to stay in a good position, but when I asked him at the quarter-pole, he didn’t really try," said Cornelio Velasquez of Diamond Stripes. "I don’t think he liked the track. It was his first on a synthetic. He wasn’t comfortable on it.”