Santa Anita's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic, centerpiece of Saturday's $3.6 million festival for California and Florida-bred horses, will offer several of the dozen runners entered an opportunity to regain past brilliance.
Lava Man, the likely favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Classic, won the Hollywood Gold Cup by a record 8 ¾ lengths. But in August, he faded to third when favored in Del Mar's $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) and was taken from the racetrack by van afterward. Subsequent journeys to New York and Japan failed to restore his lofty standing.
Lava Man, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Doug O'Neill for Jason Wood, is the field's only millionaire with earnings of $1,034,706 from a career record of 7-7-3 in 27 starts. The California-bred son of Slew City Slew
ranks with the most astute claims of recent years. He was taken for $50,000 in August of 2004 at Del Mar. Lava Man earned $774,103 in 2005.
Buzzards Bay crushed Giacomo in last year's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). But he ran fifth in Giacomo's wake during the latter's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) smasher and is winless in three stakes races since.
Stretched out beyond a mile for the first time in his career, McCann's Mojave, now 6, took last November's California Cup Classic in gutty front-running fashion before faltering in Hollywood Park's Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) when rating tactics went amiss.
McCann's Mojave drew post position 12, which did not please trainer Paddy Gallagher.
"The horse is doing real good but he didn't draw a very good post," Gallagher said. "That's a tough spot and he's at kind of a disadvantage starting out but he's training super. It looks like the race is going to be set up for a come-from-behinder because there's a lot of speed in there. We'll see what happens when the gate opens and keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best."
And Texcess, without a victory since winning the million-dollar Delta Downs Jackpot in December of 2004, was sold at auction for $300,000 this past Monday and will try to rebound for his new connections.
Texcess was purchased at Monday's Barretts mixed sale by trainer Mike Mitchell on behalf of long-time client Carl Van Burger and associates Scott and Andy Anastasi. Texcess drew post position No. 1.
Further compounding the Classic's uncertainties is the presence of Proud Tower Too, dogged in his 20-1 upset in Santa Anita's Malibu Stakes (gr. I) at seven furlongs on opening day. But Proud Tower Too is unproven routing.
A 4-year-old California-bred son of Proud Irish owned by the Tricar Stable and trained by Sal Gonzalez, Proud Tower Too won the On Trust Handicap at 7 ½ furlongs prior to the Malibu. He has raced beyond that distance only twice in a 16-race career, finishing eighth in the Snow Chief in his lone attempt at 1 1/8 miles.
Trickey Trevor had never routed in 29 starts before posting easy wins in his last three, all routes and two of them stakes races.
There are six Florida and six California breds entered in the Classic.
Four of the Sunshine Millions races will be staged at Santa Anita with the remaining four at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Florida segment is headed by the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf that marks the climax of jockey Jerry Bailey's Hall of Fame career. Bailey's final ride will be aboard favored Silver Tree for trainer Bill Mott in the Turf after riding in two other Sunshine Millions events in Florida.
First post on Sunshine Millions Day at Santa Anita will be 11:45 a.m. with gates opening at 10. Post time for the Classic is at 2:45 p.m. NBC will televise the last four stakes, including the $500,000 Filly/Mare Turf at Santa Anita, during a 90-minute telecast beginning at 1:30 p.m. HRTV will air the entire programs from both tracks. $1 Million Sunshine Millions Classic (Race 6, 2:45 p.m. PT), California & Florida breds, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Texcess (CA), 120, Kent J. Desormeaux
2. Lava Man (CA), 122, Corey S. Nakatani
3. B.B. Best (FL), 120, Victor Espinoza
4. Supervisor (FL), 122, Tyler Baze
5. Wild Buddy (FL), 122, Aaron T. Gryder
6. Whos Crying Now (FL), 122, Cornelio H. Velasquez
7. Desert Boom (CA), 122, Roberto M. Gonzalez
8. Super Strut (CA), 122, David R. Flores
9. Proud Tower Too (CA), 120, David Cohen
10. Buzzards Bay (FL), 120, Garrett K. Gomez
11. Trickey Trevor (FL), 122, Russell A. Baze
12. McCann's Mojave (CA), 122, Jose Valdivia, Jr.Also Eligible
13. Calkins Road (CA), 122, Javier Santiago
14. Always Noble (FL), 122, Javier Santiago