The wire came just in time for Valentine Dancer, who defended her title in the Cloverleaf Farms Filly & Mare Turf with an all-out effort in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions event at Gulfstream Park Saturday.
The California-bred 5-year-old mare by In Excess
prevailed by a diminishing neck over Marwood.
Changing World was another neck behind in third, a neck better than Scrofa. Favored Moscow Burning came home fifth after a troubled trip, only a head behind Scrofa, with Vous another neck back in a tremendous finish.
Valentine Dancer, winless in three starts for trainer Craig Lewis since taking last year's renewal of the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita, is a homebred owned by Al and Saundra Kirkwood. She ran the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:47.20 on firm going.
Ridden by Jon Court, Valentine Dancer became the first to repeat in the three-year Sunshine Millions series for California and Florida breds.
She stalked the front running Midwife, who opened up a 3 1/2-length lead for about a half-mile, and Formal Miss through fractions of :23 3/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11 1/5. Valentine Dancer took over leaving the far turn and opened up a daylight advantage through much of the stretch. She was under heavy pressure to extend to the wire, however, as Marwood, with Jose Santos aboard, and Changing World, Edgar Prado along, closed with a rush.
"She broke alertly, which is just what I wanted her to do," Court said. "I was content to just let her settle and run her race. I let her take her time and she responded as she always does when I asked her."
Scrofa came flying from far back with John Velazquez, nipping Moscow Burning and Jose Valdivia Jr., who bumped soundly with Marwood in upper stretch but also finished willingly in traffic. Moscow Burning was the 13-10 favorite.
Formal Miss, Shalini, Midwife, Iowa's Image, R Obsession and Tucked away trailed.
Valentine Dancer, who is from the Mr. Prospector mare Gilded Dancer, earned $275,000 for her seventh win in 20 lifetime starts, pushing her total to $900,126.
"After she won last year we figured we couldn't get much higher," said Al Kirkwood. "She got a little tired last year and we sent her home to get some rest. We had some weanlings on the farm and she was annoyed by them. We told her she had to go back and win the Sunshine Millions or she was going to be called 'Mommy.' She's a sweetheart, wonderful to be around. She just loves to run on Sunshine Millions.
"She's a homebred out of a Mr. Prospector mare and about a year after she was born we lost the mare, so we've always had high hopes for her. We're hoping she can be our first homebred millionaire. She's close."
The Kirkwoods own Ridgefield Farm in Washington state.
Overlooked at 8-1, Valentine Dancer paid $19, $9.80 and $5.80. Marwood returned $15.20 and $9. Changing World's show was $4.20.