Updated on 09/17/2011 10:48AM

Bragging rights to Florida

Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Best of the Rest, under Eibar Coa, gets past Booklet (inside) nearing the wire of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Best of the Rest, who has rebounded time and again from serious knee injuries, completed his amazing comeback story with a pulsating half-length victory over a courageous Booklet in Saturday's $1 million at Gulfstream Park.

The Classic was the highlight of Magna Entertainment Corporation's eight-race, $3.6 million Sunshine Millions program which featured head-to-head competition between Florida-breds and California-breds at Magna's two signature tracks, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park.

Florida-breds won seven of the eight races with only Adminniestrator's nose win in the Sunshine Turf preventing the Sunshine State from a clean sweep. Florida won the overall title by a score of 56-16, based on a 5-3-1 points system.

Frank Stronach, chairman of Magna Entertainment, presented the first Sunshine Cup to Scott Savin, Gulfstream Park president.

"It was a great day," said Stronach. "I think it was good for both horse racing and breeding and that eventually the Sunshine Millions will become one of the major programs in the industry. We also learned a lot from today and hopefully we'll be able to find ways to improve on the program for next year."

The attendance at Gulfstream was 18,719, while a crowd of 18,000 was estimated at Santa Anita.

Best of the Rest's victory in the Classic was the crowning achievement in an injury-plagued career. An 8-year-old son of Skip Trial, Best of the Rest has undergone four knee surgeries and overcome a litany of other infirmities that have limited him to just 27 starts over his six year racing career.

"Nobody has any idea what this horse has gone through, what his owners have gone through, and what the people who have worked on him have gone through over the years," said Eddie Plesa Jr., who trains Best of the Rest for Bea Oxenberg. "He's just a phenomenal horse and it's scary to think how good he could have been and what kind of races he could have won had he been injury-free."

With jockey Eibar Coa back aboard for the first time since May 27, Best of the Rest settled six lengths off the torrid early pace set by Booklet and longshot Island Skipper through the opening half-mile of the nine-furlong Classic. He moved three wide while commencing his rally around the second turn, then wore down Booklet following a long drive. Booklet survived the early speed battle to forge clear into the stretch and maintained a short advantage until he was collared by the winner in the final 40 yards.

Grey Memo rallied from far back to finish third, a head behind Booklet. They were followed by The Judge Sez Who, Free of Love, Long Gone Con, Nothing Flat, Continental Red, Island Skipper, Slippery When Bet, Sir Bear, and Saint Marden.

Best of the Rest paid $9 as the tepid favorite in a field of 12 Florida- and California-breds. He covered the distance in 1:49.44 over a fast track..

"This was as easily a rider's race as a horse's race and Eibar put up an outstanding ride," said Plesa. "He fits this horse like a glove."

The $550,000 first prize pushed Best of the Rest's career earnings past the $1.2 million mark.

Trainer John Ward was extremely pleased with Booklet's performance. Booklet, who won the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes here last winter, broke from post 12.

"He really ran a big race," said Ward. "The post position made him take the worst of it."