02/16/2011 3:50PM

Sarasota Sunshine makes U.S., dirt debut at Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. – The short-term opportunities for Sarasota Sunshine, who makes her American debut in an optional claimer over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Friday, remind trainer Mike Mitchell of another of his recent English imports.

In 2009, St Trinians, who had won 4 of 7 starts in England, took advantage of allowance conditions to win her first two starts in this country and later become a multiple stakes winner. She is one of the leading older females in California this winter.

Sarasota Sunshine won 7 of 17 starts in England, but most of those races carried low prize money, allowing the 5-year-old mare to make her American debut in an optional claimer for “nonwinners of two other than.”

Friday’s race will be Sarasota Sunshine’s first start since she finished 23rd in a field of 28 in a $237,400 handicap against males at Ascot last September. Preceding that race, she won a $37,100 handicap over seven furlongs on turf at Salisbury, England. In five wins from June 2009 to July 2010, Sarasota Sunshine raced for purses ranging from $4,900 to $12,100.

“She’s won a bunch of races, but the pots were small,” Mitchell said.

Sarasota Sunshine was purchased last fall by bloodstock agents Jamie Lloyd, also a Southern California trainer, and Craig Rounsefell, Mitchell’s son-in-law. Now owned by Dan Capen and sports talk-show host Jim Rome, Sarasota Sunshine impressed Mitchell with her training in January, particularly a half-mile workout in 46.80 seconds at Hollywood Park on Jan. 17.

“I want to run in the worst way,’ Mitchell said. “She’s training sensationally.”

Potential wet weather poses a threat. Rain fell early Wednesday and more is expected Friday and especially Saturday.

“I don’t want to run on a hard, sealed racetrack,” Mitchell said. “I’m hoping the rain isn’t until Friday night.”

Sarasota Sunshine has never run on a dirt track but did win three of four starts on synthetic tracks in England. She has drawn the rail in Friday’s race, which features a field of nine.

Church Camp, Crisis of Spirit, and Supermodel, second through fourth in a similar race Jan. 20, and the recent optional claiming race winners Stockings and Lea the Punisher are contenders.

Excellent News, a three-time winner last year, makes her first start since finishing eighth in the Sandy Blue Handicap at Del Mar last summer.

Church Camp is not a confirmed runner because of the weather.

“I don’t know if I’ll run,” trainer Brian Koriner said. “I think the race came up pretty tough.”