01/26/2011 2:08PM

All Due Respect can bask in Sunshine Millions


With so much of the nation frostbitten and bruised by killer winter storms, it seems the height of poor taste to go on and on about something called the Sunshine Millions on the final weekend in January.

Better that it be called the Less Miserable Millions, or the Chains Not Required Millions, or Light Jacket Toward Evening Millions rather than rubbing Sunshine in the faces of those who have been deprived of their local racing, from Hot Springs to Long Island.

It pains me to report that the last few days have been unseasonably warm in SoCal, with the temperature tickling 80 and locals breaking out wrinkled Bermuda shorts and tank tops. The trend will last until Saturday’s racing at least, when it will be a comfy 75 degrees or so in Arcadia, with a stray cloud or two, and no excuses for man or beast.

It will take a very good beast to win any of the three Sunshine Millions events taking place at Santa Anita, where very deep fields will go forth in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf and Sunshine Millions Distaff. As for the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, it looks like Cost of Freedom’s to lose, but we’ve all seen how those one-horse races can turn out sometimes.

(The Classic and both the Filly and Mare Turf and Sprint will go at Gulfstream.)

The Distaff, at a mile and one-sixteenth, presents as good a field as will be assembled this winter among older fillies and mares, minus Blind Luck and Switch. Evening Jewel heads the pack, and rightfully so, given her 3-year-old record of four major stakes wins and nearly a million dollars in earnings.

Evening Jewel has not won since last summer’s Del Mar Oaks, however, and most recently was beaten in the Jan. 2 Monrovia. This would give rise to hope among the opposition, led by the swift Briecat, consistent Ultra Blend, and the Steve Specht-trained tandem of Antares World and Lady Railrider, who was second in the 2009 running of the Distaff.

Kathy Walsh will be on the attack in the Distaff with All Due Respect, a Florida-bred daughter of Value Plus who came within a neck of taking the Santa Anita Oaks last March. Walsh and her owners, Al and Sandee Kirkwood, have asked a lot of All Due Respect since then, but in a good cause, and now they have a 4-year-old filly who appears on the cusp of stardom.

“I couldn’t ask for her to be doing any better,” Walsh said Wednesday as a chilly morning gave way to....never mind.

The Kirkwoods are no strangers to Sunshine Millions success. Their mare Valentine Dancer won runnings of the Filly and Mare Turf in 2004 and 2005 for trainer Craig Lewis, transferring her solid California form to Florida without a hitch.

All Due Respect was purchased by the Kirkwoods a year ago after she was an impressive maiden winner for Ronny Werner in New Orleans. She was already stakes-placed at the time, so it was not a giant leap for her to be tossed right into the Santa Anita Oaks against division leader Blind Luck. With Garrett Gomez aboard, All Due Respect won that battle, beating Blind Luck, but lost the war to Crisp.

After that, Walsh and the Kirkwoods went hunting in Oaklawn’s Fantasy Stakes, but nothing went right.

“She got to fighting Garrett that day and never did relax,” Walsh said. “She ended up displacing her palate.”

All Due Respect hit the road again in June, turning up at Prairie Meadows for the Iowa Oaks three weeks after an impressive allowance win at Hollywood Park. After displaying her usual zip she faded to finish third.

“She bounced off that race, after running a huge number, and maybe she shouldn’t have been shipped back there,” said Walsh, which is not the kind of thing that rolls easily off the tongue of such an old-school trainer. She laughed.

“I don’t know think we knew the term ‘bounce’ in those days, but we sure as hell knew what happened,” Walsh said. “We had a little different vocabulary. We just screwed up – trainer’s error.”

At the same time. Walsh’s experience lets her keep her cool as the personality of the new Santa Anita main track undergoes changes, from radically fast to measurably slower in more recent days, with the addition of sand.

“We get off-kilter about that sometimes,” she said. “I’m sure it was a speed-biased track, but now it has been changing. Anyway, the worst thing you can do is change your horse’s style of running because of a racetrack. That upsets them more than anything else.”

For better or worse, All Due Respect has done most of her running on the lead. She’s got a lot of her free-wheeling grandsire, Devil His Due, racing through her veins. To Walsh’s delight, though, the filly is evolving into a more mature competitor, as evidenced in her Dec. 27 allowance win when she sat off the early pace and took command late, outclassing her rivals.

All Due Respect was ridden for the second time that day by Joe Talamo. Beforehand, Walsh had her jockey looking at films.

“He opened up a little soon with her the first time he rode her,” Walsh said. “I told him who’s ever on the lead to stay away from her going into that first turn. He’d lose a little ground, but sometimes when you do that your horse will just look over at the other horse and relax.”

Which is exactly what happened. Now let’s see if she can do it again. On Saturday, All Due Respect has drawn post position 6 of the nine running, with Briecat, Amazing and Camille C to the inside, all inclined toward early speed.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Walsh said, referring to the key first turn. “The way she’s been training, I think she’ll run a big race. let’s just say they’ll need to run their race to beat her.”