Continuing an upward progression that began this summer, Saraguaro followed his first stakes victory last month with another strong performance Nov. 7, winning the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Classic Preview by 1 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park West.
Video: Millions Classic Preview S. (BT)
The 1 1/16-mile Classic was the fourth of eight stakes worth total purses of $800,000 for Florida-breds on the 10-race Preview Day program that serve as steppingstones for Sunshine Millions Day coming up Jan. 16 at Gulfstream Park.
A two-length winner of the Florida Stallion Foolish Pleasure Stakes Oct. 3 at Gulfstream, Saraguaro now owns three wins from five starts since returning from a 5 1/2-month layoff to break his maiden in mid-July. He fell and lost his rider in the final start of his juvenile season last December, and opened 2015 running second in a Gulfstream maiden special weight Feb. 7.
"Since we first got him, we've always thought he was a nice horse," said winning trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who also owns a share of the 3-year-old Express Tour colt with Thoroughbred Acquisition Group. "We put blinkers on him and the first time we ran him (with them), he fell down (when) a horse went in front of him. He ran a good second to Danzig Moon, who went to the (Kentucky) Derby, and after that he just wasn't right."
Joseph gave Saraguaro some time, and the chestnut responded with a 5 1/4-length maiden triumph July 17, beating older horses. Off the board in the Florida Sire Unbridled Stakes Aug. 8, he was third in an optional claimer 21 days later before putting it all together in a two-length Foolish Pleasure victory.
"We couldn't figure out anything, so we decided to just stop with him. The last couple of races things have really come together for him," Joseph said. "He ran big today. It looked like they were trying to get to him at the end, but if you look at the replay he galloped out five lengths ahead."
Second choice in a field of seven at 5-2, Saraguaro ($7.20, $4.20, $2.80) broke from the far outside under jockey Eddie Castro and settled in fourth behind grade III stakes winner City of Weston, who ran the opening quarter-mile in :24.47. Racing along the rail, City of Weston was passed by Nauset Beach after a half in :49.40, with Southern Barbecue and Saraguaro right behind.
Castro steered Saraguaro to the outside for a clear run and they took over the top spot approaching the stretch, extending the lead past the eighth pole and holding off a resurgent Nauset Beach, hitting the wire in 1:45.65. Southern Barbecue took third, 2 3/4 lengths behind Nauset Beach, with Aces for John another three lengths back in fourth.
"He didn't break really sharp right away but I put him in good position. I knew I had to ride the horse a little bit to keep him busy. I rode him before, so I know the horse a little bit," Castro said. "At the three-eighths pole I started to ride the horse and nobody came with me. He felt great today. He stayed in the bit the whole way so when I asked him, he had a nice kick at the finish."
Saraguaro now has three wins from 10 starts and improved his bankroll to $205,504. He will be pointed to the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, run at 1 1/8 miles.
"The last two races we changed the blinkers on him and went to a fuller cup," Joseph said. "Two turns is what he wants. We're just happy to get through today, obviously. They have the Sunshine Millions in January; that would be the target."
Other winners on the third annual Preview Day program included Glen Hill Farm's Old Time Hockey ($100,000 Millions Turf Preview), owner-trainer Eddie Broome's Brandy's Girl ($100,000 Juvenile Fillies Sprint Preview), J and J Stables and GSP Stable's Jewel of a Cat ($100,000 Turf Sprint Preview), Gilbert G. Campbell's Legal Laura ($100,000 Distaff Preview), Little Dreams Racing's Little Nick V. ($100,000 Juvenile Turf Preview), Arindel Farm's Pancake ($100,000 Juvenile Fillies Turf Preview), and George Kerr's Li'l Meatball ($100,000 Juvenile Sprint Preview).