01/20/2003 12:00AM

Sunshine Millions draws 'em

Email

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Super Bowl XXXVII will not be the only sporting event to feature a confrontation between teams from Florida and California this weekend. Twenty-four hours before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders square off in San Diego, teams comprised of Florida-breds and California-breds will battle Saturday at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park in Magna Entertainment Corp's inaugural Sunshine Millions, a series of eight races offering $3.85 million in purses.

Entries for the eight Sunshine stakes were drawn at the host sites on Monday. The main race of the afternoon, the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic, to be run at Gulfstream Park, drew a full field of 12 that included eight Florida-breds and four California-breds.

The $750,000 Distaff, highlight of Santa Anita's four Sunshine Millions stakes, also drew a full field, equally divided between Florida- and California-breds.

The three other Gulfstream Park races on the Sunshine Millions card are the $350,000 Filly and Mare turf, the $250,000 Filly and Mare Sprint, and the $250,000 Dash.

The $500,000 Turf, the $250,000 Sprint, and the $250,000 Oaks fill out the Santa Anita program.

The biggest disappointment of the draw was the turnout for the Dash, which drew a field of only seven 3-year-old colts and geldings, led by California's Excessivepleasure and Florida's Valid Video.

Three of the four Santa Anita races have 12-horse fields with only the Sprint, which lured 11 entries, falling short of a full field.

NBC will televise three of the eight races, the Filly and Mare Sprint, the Turf, and the Sunshine Classic, live from 3 to 4 p.m. Eastern. The Filly and Mare Sprint will go off as the first of the eight Sunshine Millions races, with post time at 3:15 Eastern. The races will then alternate every 15 minutes between Gulfstream and Santa Anita with the final post for the eight Sunshine Millions races at 5 p.m. Eastern.

"It took the cooperative efforts of six groups on two coasts to make this event happen," said Scott Savin, Gulfstream Park president. "And to get all of us to work together and pull this off is a minor miracle."

The Sunshine Classic is not only the richest race on the Sunshine Millions card, it may also be the most wide open. Daily Racing Form linemaker Mike Watchmaker established the Calder-based Best of the Rest as the 7-2 morning line favorite, followed by California's Continental Red at 4-1.

The remainder of the field includes Florida-breds The Judge Sez Who, Booklet, Saint Marden, Sir Bear, Free of Love, Nothing Flat, and Island Skipper. Along with Continental Red, California will be represented in the Classic by Long Gone Con, Slippery When Bet, and Grey Memo.

Booklet, who won the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last winter, took the worst of the post position draw for the Classic, pulling post position 12.

"I'd rather be outside than inside," said trainer John Ward, "because it might put Pat [jockey Pat Day] in a little more controlling position, although I'm not sure I want to be that far outside."

Best of the Rest was well drawn in post 7 for the Classic. Best of the Rest, an 8-year-old son of Skip Trial, has won 13 of 26 career starts, including the Unbridled Handicap at Gulfstream last spring. He will be seeking to reverse his recent loss to fellow Florida-bred The Judge Sez Who in Calder's Grade 3 Fred Hooper Jr. Handicap.

Continental Red, best known for his prowess on grass, switched to the main track at the tail end of 2002, and finished second in the Cal Cup Classic and won the Great States Challenge Handicap at Sam Houston Park.

Cee's Elegance, winner of the restricted Cat's Cradle Handicap and second behind Starrer in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap to close out her 2002 campaign, heads Team California in the Distaff. Grade 2 winner Smok N Frolic and the speedy Svea Dahl top the Florida contingent.

The Sunshine Turf will be the final start for likely favorite Forbidden Apple, who will be sent to the breeding shed when he returns from California. An 8-year-old son of Pleasant Colony, Forbidden Apple has earned more than $1.6 million for owner-breeder Arthur Appleton and has finished second and fourth in the last two renewals of the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Atlantic Ocean, who is based in California with trainer Bob Baffert but is a Florida-bred, tops a potent Florida team in the Oaks - a team that also includes Calder-based sensation Ivanavinalot and the well-traveled Elegant Designer, who has won her last three starts, including the Great State Challenge Juvenile Fillies.