01/31/2005 12:00AM

Millions really Claiming Crown's cousin

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With the exception of jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer Juan Garcia, will anyone remember $97 Sprint winner Red Warrior next year?

NEW YORK - Now that the Sunshine Millions has been run three times, it is a little easier to put this event in proper context. Despite boasting total purses of $3.6 million, the Sunshine Millions is a lot closer to the Claiming Crown than it is to what it takes as its model, the Breeders' Cup.

That is no knock on the Claiming Crown, a concept horseplayers can't help but love because it almost always offers full, well-matched fields that promise plenty of betting value. The Claiming Crown, however, has no pretense of being meaningful to the sporting aspect of Thoroughbred racing, and, so long as it maintains its current form, neither should the Sunshine Millions. Unless the Sunshine Millions races are opened up to more comers than just California-breds and Florida-breds - after last year's Sunshine Millions, I advocated changing this to a contest between all horses stabled at Gulfstream Park against all horses stabled at Santa Anita - this event will have at best minimal impact on the breed. That is because, with these races being restricted to California-breds and Florida-breds, the races that make up the Sunshine Millions can never become graded stakes events.

Okay, there may be the occasional exception. Lost in the Fog, winner of Saturday's Dash, might go on to be a serious 3-year-old.

Southern Image was certainly an exception. The winner of last year's Sunshine Millions Classic, Southern Image went on to win the Big Cap and the Pimlico Special. But I defy anyone with a life to name three other Sunshine Millions winners from last year. If you're motivated to go look them up, here's a tip: Don't bother to check the official Sunshine Millions website. You won't find them there.

After what happened on Saturday, it may be difficult to remember three 2005 Sunshine Millions winners at this time next year. We will probably remember Musique Toujours, the former claimer who won the Classic at 70-1, for exactly the same reason we remember Arcangues, who has a place in Breeders' Cup lore because of his 133-1 upset in the Classic in 1993. Beyond that, I'm not too sure. No offense to his connections, or the tiny minority who bet on him, but will anyone remember Red Warrior, the $97 winner of the Sprint?

Let's get real. Aside from distributing an exorbitant amount of purse money to its few successful competitors, the main function of the Sunshine Millions, in its current format, is to be a skullbusting exercise for the horseplayer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as such, it must be said that the camera work of the races on Saturday's national telecast was appallingly bad. Without people who had a financial interest in the proceedings, the ratings for the Sunshine Millions would have had to be measured with a microscope. Yet, no effort was spared in alienating the people who had a real reason to watch, with a multitude of camera cuts during the running of the races.

Some of the camera cuts and angles were downright bizarre. A big storyline in the Classic, for example, was whether 2-1 favorite Midas Eyes could deal with a terrible outside post position. But with even announcer Tom Durkin warning that Midas Eyes was hung six wide on the first turn, we never got a chance to see it. Instead, we were given a ground level side shot around the first turn that showed nothing. Then, apparently, the director decided the Classic, instead of being a 12-horse race, was only a four-horse race, because four horses were all we got to see for a good chunk of the run around the far turn.

Perhaps the most incredible camera cut took place in the Filly and Mare Turf. Into the stretch, a cut was made to an isolated shot of Moscow Burning, who had three to four horses in front of her, and who was about ready to run up the white flag. What a great idea. Why would anyone want to see the leaders battling it out turning into the stretch? Let's instead watch a struggling horse going nowhere.

Count me still among the skeptics when it comes to Lost in the Fog. He is an interesting story, and was obviously much the best in the Dash after disputing a fast pace over a Gulfstream main track that up until that point in the day seemed to favor outside runners from off the pace. After only three starts, he also has every right to improve. But, Lost in the Fog took 25.23 seconds to complete his final quarter-mile, and 12.84 to negotiate the final eighth. There aren't many truly major races, sprint or otherwise, that can be won coming home like that.

Just for kicks, I calculated what a $2 win parlay on Saturday's eight Sunshine Millions would have been, and here it is: $1,147,553,098.21. Yes, that is $1.1 billion. And don't forget the 21 cents.