Fresh off her Breeders' Cup Distaff and Eclipse Award victories, Ginger Punch is the one to beat in the Sunshine Millions Distaff.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Fresh off her Breeders' Cup Distaff and Eclipse Award victories, Ginger Punch is the one to beat in the Sunshine Millions Distaff.
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Jeffrey Snyder

Ginger Punch Class of Distaff Field

Fresh off her Eclipse Award, the 5-year-old mare is the one to beat at Gulfstream.

Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner and 2007 older female Eclipse Award champion Ginger Punch makes her season debut Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park, leading a full field of 12 in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff.

A 1 1/8 mile test on the main track, the Distaff is part of the eight-race Sunshine Millions, with four events to be held at Gulfstream and the other four at Santa Anita Park. The 6th annual Sunshine Millions pits Florida and California-breds against one another.

Ginger Punch is a Florida homebred of Frank Stronach, the creator of Sunshine Millions. The 5-year-old mare by Awesome Again  had a phenomenal 2007, winning five of eight starts, while finishing on the board in every start. Her final four starts came in grade I competition, three of them wins.

The Oct. 27 Breeders’ Cup Distaff victory saw Ginger Punch gamely fight off Hystericalady on the rail, getting up by a neck under Rafael Bejarano. Prior to that she captured the July 28 Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, and  the Sept. 8 Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont.

Ginger Punch has a record of 7-5-1 in 14 career starts for trainer Bobby Frankel. Based in California, she has been training on the Hollywood Cushion Track. She shipped to Florida Jan. 23.

Breaking from post two under Bejarano, Ginger Punch is expected to be the heavy favorite. If there is enough early speed, she will likely stay just off the pace, but Frankel says it shouldn’t matter too much.

“If she runs her race she’ll be tough to beat,” Frankel said. “It doesn’t look there is a whole lot of pace in here, so we’ll just let her break and go where she wants. She might even be on the lead.

“She is doing fine. I think the time off helped her, at least, looks-wise. She seems to have gained some weight.”

If Ginger Punch is to be tested, perhaps it will come from Jacks or Better Farm-homebred Bayou’s Lassie, who enters off a victory in the Stage Door Betty (gr. III) Dec. 29 at Calder Race Course. Trained by Christophe Clement, Bayou’s Lassie was second in a pair of ungraded stakes at Calder prior to that, setting the pace in both of them before giving way in the stretch.

Or perhaps competition could come from Gary and Cecil Barber’s Curiously Sweet, a 4-year-old Lost Soldier filly who has won her last three starts. Bred in California, Curiously Sweet scored a pair of allowance victories for trainer John Sadler last November, then took the Cat’s Cradle Handicap Dec. 21 on the Hollywood Cushion Track, her first stakes try. Curiously Sweet will stretch out to 1 1/8-miles for the first time in her career.

WinStar Farm’s Leah’s Secret will also look to pull the upset. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the 5-year-old mare by Tiger Ridge has not won since the fall of 2006 when she took the Lexus Raven Run (gr. II) at Keeneland and Anne Arundel Stakes at Laurel Park. Although without a victory last year, Leah’s Secret was second in the Allaire DuPont Breeders' Cup Distaff Stakes (gr. II) and third in the Vinery Madison Stakes (gr. II).

The Sunshine Millions Distaff will be Leah's Secret's first start for WinStar Farm and Pletcher after being purchased for $525,000 at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select sale from the consignment of Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent. She previously raced for First Klass Stable and trainer Helen Pitts.

$500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff (Race 9, 5:03 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Peach Flambe (FL), 122, Eibar Coa
2. Ginger Punch (FL), 122, Rafael Bejarano
3. Leah's Secret (FL), 122, John R. Velazquez
4. Saffronista (FL), 122, Julio A. Garcia
5. Swiss Current (CA), 120, Aaron T. Gryder
6. Night Power (CA), 122, Miguel Hernandez
7. Exchanging Fire (FL), 120, Edwin L. King, Jr.
8. Bayou's Lassie (FL), 122, Elvis Trujillo
9. Prop Me Up (FL), 122, Jose Lezcano
10. Memorette (CA), 122, Kent J. Desormeaux
11. Curiously Sweet (CA), 120, Javier Castellano
12. Lost Etiquette (FL), 120, Shaun Bridgmohan