01/27/2005 12:00AM

Eight races for six or seven figures


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is nothing like $3.6 million in purses to create a warm, fuzzy feeling in late January at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park.

The third annual at Gulfstream.

"The purses are incredible," said trainer Doug O'Neill. He starts eight runners Saturday, including two in the Classic: Supah Blitz and Lava Man. Six other O'Neill runners have been aiming for weeks to the rich series, which is funded through an agreement between California and Florida breeders and horsemen, and the racetracks.

The biggest contributor is Magna Entertainment, which puts up $1.2 million of the $3.6 million total. For horsemen, it is like free money. Beyond kicking in an amount that magnifies purses by 50 percent, Magna has spared little broadcast expense to generate national interest. NBC will televise the eight Sunshine Millions races in a telecast from 4-6 p.m. Eastern. An awful lot of good racing will be stuffed into the short time slot.

The Gulfstream races include two at six furlongs - Bear Fan heads the $300,000 Filly and Mare Sprint (race 7), while potential freak Lost in the Fog runs in the $250,000 Dash for 3-year-olds (race 8). California-bred shippers Moscow Burning and Valentine Dancer run for a $500,000 purse in Filly and Mare Turf at 1 1/8 miles (race 9), and Midas Eyes will try to stretch his speed 1 1/8 miles in the Classic (race 10).

At Santa Anita, Sunshine Millions races are early on the card. The first are at six furlongs - speedballs Coastal Strike and Brooke's Halo meet in the $250,000 Oaks for 3-year-old fillies (race 3), and O'Neill-trained Areyoutalkintome faces Green Team in the $300,000 Sprint (race 4). Top-class Silver Tree, A to the Z, and Star Over the Bay race 1 1/8 miles on turf in the $500,000 (race 5). Yearly Report leads a host of graded stakes winners in the $500,000 Distaff for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Some 49 horses entered the Santa Anita races, and 43 entered at Gulfstream. It is not by accident that O'Neill will start more Sunshine Millions runners (eight) than anyone. "Throughout the year, as you buy and claim California- and Florida-breds, you have [the Sunshine Millions] in the back of your mind as a possibility for the big purses on this particular day," he said. "It's a big boost for all the breeders in Florida and California."

By restricting the races to horses bred in those two states, Magna chairman Frank Stronach has kept the focus on the location of the crown jewels in his racetrack empire, thought it comes with a cost. One drawback to the Sunshine Millions is that it cannibalizes stakes programs at Santa Anita and Gulfstream, and possibly rewards mediocrity by offering huge purses in races open to less than one-quarter of the annual U.S. foal crop.

Few bettors, though, have embraced the series as a California-versus-Florida duel. The first two years it was not even close. Florida-breds dominated by winning 13 of the 16 races. That could change this year. California-breds enter with a perceived advantage over Florida-breds in all four races at Santa Anita, and two at Gulfstream.

"From the Cal-bred standpoint, I think it's the best group overall we've put out there," said Doug Burge, executive vice president and general manger of the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association.

In fact, a California-bred sweep is not out of the question at Santa Anita, beginning with Oaks starter Coastal Strike, who won both of her starts last summer and has trained super for her comeback. Her main rival is a front-running Florida-bred, Brooke's Halo. Brooke's Halo won her only start, beating a weak group of maidens in the slop last fall at Calder, and she has worked fast for her first start for trainer Jeff Mullins.

Barring a return to form by Florida-bred Shake You Down in the Sprint, California-breds hold the edge. Areyoutalkintome, Revello, and Green Team head the locals.

A to the Z is the leading Cal-bred in the Turf at Santa Anita, but he faces top-class Florida-breds Silver Tree and Star Over the Bay. Friel's for Real and Fencelineneighbor are the main Florida-breds in the Distaff at Santa Anita. They face Cal-breds House of Fortune, Dream of Summer, Alphabet Kisses, and Yearly Report.

The power shift is less evident at Gulfstream, though Cal-bred Bear Fan is favored over Cal-bred Cyber Slew in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Florida-bred 3-year-old Lost in the Fog earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 109 last time and is favored over Cal-bred Run Thruthe Sun in the Dash. California-breds Moscow Burning and Valentine Dancer meet graded- stakes-winning Florida-bred Changing World in the Filly and Mare Turf.

The Classic is a wide-open scramble, and also a key race for weekend horseplayers. The $2 Magna Five pick five wager returns Saturday, and the Classic is the final leg of the sequence.

The Magna Five races this Saturday are Laurel race 10, Gulfstream race 9, Santa Anita race 6, Golden Gate race 6 and Gulfstream race 10.

Sunshine Millions

OaksSanta Anita$250,0006 furlongs3:50 pm12:50 p.m.
Key horses: Brooke's Halo, Coastal Strike, Hello Lucky, Memorette
DashGulfstream250,0006 furlongs4:151:15
Key horses: Lost in the Fog, B. B. Best, Bushwacker, Run Thruthe Sun
SprintSanta Anita300,0006 furlongs4:251:25
Key horses: Areyoutalkintome, Green Team, My Cousin Matt, Shake You Down
FM SprintGulfstream300,0006 furlongs4:451:45
Key horses: Alix M, Bear Fan, Double Scoop, Mooji Moo
TurfSanta Anita500,0001 1/8 miles (T)4:551:55
Key horses: A to the Z, Silver Tree, Star Over the Bay, Union Place
FM TurfGulfstream500,0001 1/8 miles (T)5:152:15
Key horses: Changing World, Moscow Burning, Valentine Dancer
DistaffSanta Anita500,0001 1/16 miles5:252:25
Key horses: Alphabet Kisses, Friel's for Real, House of Fortune, Yearly Report
ClassicGulfstream1,000,0001 1/8 miles5:452:45
Key horses: Classic Endeavor, Limehouse, Midas Eyes, Second of June

* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m.. (Eastern), NBC
* All races restricted to Florida- and California-breds