01/29/2011 8:24PM

Evening Jewel regains good form in Sunshine Millions Distaff

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BENOIT PHOTO
Evening Jewel breaks out of her slump by winning the Sunshine Millions Distaff.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Trainer Jim Cassidy was so concerned about Evening Jewel’s mental state in the moments before Saturday’s $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff that he forgot to have a pre-race strategy conference in the paddock with jockey Victor Espinoza.

Cassidy wanted to remind Espinoza to keep Evening Jewel off the pace for the first half-mile. The jockey must have read his mind. Utilizing that game plan, Espinoza had Evening Jewel seventh for the first half-mile and closed well through the final quarter-mile to win the race for California-breds and Florida-breds by a half-length as the 2-1 favorite.

“I forgot to tell Victor to take a hold of her,” Cassidy said. “He did it on his own.”

The winning move gave the California-bred Evening Jewel her sixth career stakes win and first since the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last August. The victory ended a span of three losses that included a third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November, but a dull fifth in the Grade 3 Monrovia Stakes here on Jan. 2.

“She needed this race,” Cassidy said in the winner’s circle. “She was not 100 percent.”

The win was especially poignant for owner Marilyn Braly, the filly’s first victory since the death of her husband Tom last September. Tom Braly attended the Del Mar Oaks win in the weeks before his passing.

Evening Jewel’s performance in the Sunshine Millions was similar to her win in the Del Mar Oaks when she was off the pace early and made a bold move in the stretch. In Saturday’s race, she was sixth on the turn, racing toward the inside, and moved three-wide under Espinoza to reach contention in early stretch. Trailing leader Amazing by a length at the eighth pole, Evening Jewel ($6.40) finished best, and ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.25.

Amazing, a Florida-bred trained by Marty Wolfson, finished a nose in front of the California-bred Ultra Blend, who was last on the turn but closed well while racing wide.

“If we don’t have to go so far wide, that had to cost us,” trainer Art Sherman said. “We weren’t beaten that far.”

Evening Jewel has won 7 of 16 starts and $1,182,943. In the paddock before Saturday’s race, Cassidy was concerned with the 4-year-old filly’s condition after the field was kept in the walking ring longer than expected, he said.

In the end, the incident did not matter when Evening Jewel proved to be best.

Amazombie prevails in three-horse photo in Sprint

An ideal ride by jockey Mike Smith gave Amazombie a stakes win in his debut at that level in the $200,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, the first of the three restricted races on Saturday’s program.

Amazombie was third on the backstretch, in pursuit of Cost of Freedom and Excessive Passion, who set a torrid pace of 20.80 and 42.72 seconds. With a three-wide move on the turn, Amazombie reached contention in early stretch. Excessive Passion was out of contention by the eighth pole, but Amazombie needed the entire stretch to catch Cost of Freedom and hold off a game rally from Florida invader Apriority.

Amazombie won by a head over Apriority, who was a head in front of Cost of Freedom in the field of eight. Smith thought of staying on the rail, but opted for a wide run.

“I knew the closers would be coming and we made them fan out a little bit, which helped,” he said.

Apriority was also making his stakes debut. Trained by David Fawkes, Apriority won three consecutive races in south Florida from November to early January. Cost of Freedom, the 3-5 favorite, was seeking his fourth consecutive stakes win.

Amazombie ($24.80) ran six furlongs in 1:07.28, just missing the track record of 1:06.98, set by The Factor on Dec. 26.

A California-bred, Amazombie, a 5-year-old gelding, has won 6 of 15 starts and $308,708. He races for trainer Bill Spawr and Tom Sanford.

Spawr was worried about Amazombie’s rail draw, but not the gelding’s mindset.

“This horse has really changed a lot and we’ve recognized how he’s developed,” he said. “He’s grown up and matured. He’s learned how to relax.”

Amazombie has proven to be versatile in the last 15 months. He beat statebred maidens on the synthetic main track at Hollywood Park in December 2009, won four turf races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park last year, and made his second start on a dirt track on Saturday.