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Top Fla.-breds on outside looking in
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The fields for Magna Entertainment Corp.'s $3.6 million Sunshine Millions on Jan. 25 are starting to take shape, and there could be some notable omissions when the line-up of Team Florida is determined at next Monday's post position draw. Pre-entries for the Sunshine Millions will be taken this Wednesday.
Among those who may not qualify for the $1 million Sunshine Classic are three-time Grade 1 winner Sir Bear and Free of Love. Forbidden Apple, fourth and second in the last two renewals of the Breeders' Cup Mile, is likely to be on the outside looking in when entries are drawn for the Sunshine Millions Turf.
First preference for eligibility in an oversubscribed race is given to graded stakes winners in 2002-03, followed by stakes winners in 2002-03, with horses with the highest earnings in non-claiming races in 2002-03 preferred. Up to 12 horses can run in each race, six from each team.
Sir Bear is one of eight graded stakes winners among the Florida-breds pointing for the Classic, but is seventh on that list in money won. Free for Love is eighth. The connections of The Judge Sez Who, Booklet, Best of the Rest, Mayakovsky, and Saint Marden have all indicated they plan to run in the race.
Western Pride is also rated above Sir Bear, but Western Pride's trainer, James Chapman, could create a spot on the Classic for Sir Bear should he opt to run his horse in the Sunshine Turf instead.
Forbidden Apple is generally regarded to be among the premier grass horses in the world. Last year he was third, beaten a neck, in the Arlington Million and second in both the Grade 1 Manhattan and Grade 2 Kelso handicaps. But because he failed to win a stakes race last year, his name is well down the list among the Florida-breds nominated for the Sunshine Turf.
"Forbidden Apple is being trained to run in the Sunshine Millions along with Sir Brian's Sword," trainer Christophe Clement said. "And there are some bad horses rated higher than Forbidden Apple on that list. This was to be his last race before being retired to stud. If he doesn't get in he'll go directly to stud and won't run again."
Sir Brian's Sword is rated two slots above Forbidden Apple and should draw into the race if Western Pride opts for the Classic. Team Florida will also be represented in the Turf by Miesque's Approval, Point Prince, Special Matter, Music's Storm, and Stormy Roman.
Gygistar nears return
Gygistar, who was forced to sit out the 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint due to an injury suffered in an accident less than two weeks before the race, gave every indication he is nearly ready to launch his 2003 campaign. Gygistar worked an eye-catching half-mile in 47 seconds here on Sunday morning.
Gygistar, winner of all five starts last year, including the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes, would have likely been the second choice in the wagering behind Orientate in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but he ripped off a large part of his foot after kicking the wall of his Belmont Park stall.
"He ripped the hoof wall out and took his foot down almost to the bone," trainer Mark Hennig said.
"So we had to give him plenty of time for some new foot to grow back. That kind of injury is never a good thing, but the timing of this one was particularly bad because I think he really would have represented himself well in the Breeders' Cup."
Hennig said he is aiming Gygistar, a homebred owned by Edward P. Evans, for the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs here on Feb. 9.
"We're going to play things by ear with him this season," Hennig said. "If all goes well in the Deputy Minister we're considering taking him to Dubai for the $2 million Sprint, although naturally we'll be keeping our eye on the situation in the Middle East before making any final decision. After that I'm not sure which direction we'll head. He's a pretty unique horse and maybe he can stretch out, although I'm not sure if he'll be able to get 1 1/4 miles. If that's the case, then the Breeders' Cup Sprint would likely be our major objective again this season."
As usual, Hennig will be well represented at Gulfstream this winter. On Monday he had Gold Mover work a half-mile in 48.80 seconds. The Grade 3 Shirley Jones Handicap on Feb. 14 is a likely spot for her next start. Mystic Lady, another of his stakes-caliber fillies, will launch her 2003 campaign one week earlier in the Grade 3 Sabin Handicap.
Hennig said Raging Fever and Summer Colony are also back in training here this winter.
"Raging Fever just got back after spending a couple of months on the farm and looks tremendous," Hennig said. "Summer Colony has also started training here and might run once before the end of the meet."
Harlan's Holiday sharper in work
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who withheld Harlan's Holiday from Saturday's Hal's Hope Handicap after not being satisfied with his final prep for the race, was feeling a lot better after watching last year's Florida Derby winner work five furlongs in 1:01.80 at Palm Meadows on Sunday.
"This work was much better than last week's," Pletcher said. "He's kind of rounding back to form. I really would have liked to have had that race [the Hal's Hope] into him before the Donn, which is where he's likely headed next, although I'm still keeping the Strub open as an option, especially if he really starts tearing the barn down to the point I can't wait for the Donn."
The Grade 1 Donn will be run here on Feb. 22 while Santa Anita's Strub Handicap is carded on Feb. 1.
Della Francesca stakes bound
Trainer Niall O'Callaghan was all smiles after Della Francesca won a money allowance race here on Sunday, running down the odds-on favorite, graded stakes winner Stokosky. Della Francesca, a Group 3 winner in Ireland last year, finished 10th as the even-money favorite in his only previous U.S. appearance, at Churchill Downs on Nov. 21.
"There probably aren't too many trainers who could get a horse like this beat as far as I did the first time out," O'Callaghan said with a smile. "Actually he just wound up getting caught up in a pace that was completely ludicrous for a turf course that was as soft as it was at Churchill that day. I had to skip several conditions just to get him in this race, and most times a horse won't win when you do that unless they are exceptional. I think this colt is a pretty darn good one, but that he'll need more racing until he's at his best."
O'Callaghan said he is considering the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on Feb. 16 for Della Francesca's next start.