HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Thoroughbred Acquisition Group and Saffie Joseph’s Saraguaro is slated to seek his third straight stakes victory in Saturday’s $250,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, looking to continue his impressive comeback from a frightening mishap 13 months ago.
The Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained 4-year-old is entered to clash with nine Florida-bred rivals in the 1 1/8-mile centerpiece of the six-race $1.05 Sunshine Millions program, which will be followed by the 45th annual Eclipse Awards Saturday evening in Gulfstream Park’s Sport of Kings Theater.
The son of Express Tour has dominated his fellow state-breds while capturing the $150,000 Florida Sire Stakes Foolish Pleasure at Gulfstream Park in October and the $100,000 Millions Classic Preview at Gulfstream Park in November.
On Dec. 23, 2014, Saraguaro fell to the racetrack after toppling over a fallen horse while racing in tight quarters. Initially, it appeared that he had escaped injury in the spill when he came back six weeks later to finish second behind Daring Moon, who went on to finish second in the Blue Grass (G1) and run in the Kentucky Derby. However, the chestnut colt was sent to the sidelines after his promising effort.
“He trained good after he fell and finished second to Danzig Moon, but after that he just wasn’t right. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Nothing showed up,” Joseph said. “We decided to back off on him, and it’s paying off now. After the fall, he just wasn’t traveling right for a while. Now he’s traveling perfect.”
Saraguaro made a victorious return off the layoff in July, graduating from the maiden ranks by 5 ¼ lengths. A couple of disappointing efforts followed, but he broke through with a two-length triumph when sent around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Foolish Pleasure. He followed up his first stakes win with a 1 ½-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Millions Classic Preview at Gulfstream Park West.
“I think distance is the key,” Joseph said. “I think the mile and an eighth is going to be even better for him.”
Joseph expects Saraguaro to continue to improve with experience, as well as distance.
“Most of his family has gotten better with age. His sister was Grade 1-placed and got better with age,” said Joseph of half-sister Lemon Drop Mom, a multiple-stakes winner who finished second behind Ginger Punch in the 2008 Personal Ensign (G1) at the age of 4. Eddie Castro, aboard for Saraguaro’s recent back-to-back scores, has the return mount.
Sr. Quisqueyano pulled off a 20-1 upset in last year’s Classic in his first start after being claimed for $62,500 a month earlier.
“First off the claim and he won. That was pretty exciting,” Walder said. “I’ve kind of been pointing to this race all year. It’s his time to wake up.”
The 6-year-old son of Exclusive Quality has been winless in five subsequent starts, including a ninth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), a photo-finish second in the Skip Away (G3) at Gulfstream and a sixth in the Texas Mile (G3) at Lone Star Park last spring.
The multiple-stakes winner of nearly $750,000 returned from a seven-month layoff to finish eighth in the Harlan’s Holiday Dec. 12 before finishing fifth behind Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Itsaknockout in a particularly tough optional claiming allowance Dec. 31.
“He came back good. It’s not often when you run fifth and you’re kind of happy, but we got what we were looking for,” Walder said. “That was a ridiculous allowance race that was more like a Grade 2. I thought I could train him fit. Obviously, I couldn’t, so I’m going to run him fit (in the Classic).”
Runs With Bulls, a $12,500 claim, stalked the pace before drawing off to a 1 ½-length victory in the Iron Horse to record his third straight victory.
“I keep on teasing everybody, saying he’s going to beat [Sr. Quisqueyano}. The boys in the barn have a bet going on,” Walder said. “He ran awesome in the Claiming Crown. He looks like he’ll run all day. His numbers are good. Why not? Running two at them is better than one.”
Mossarosa’s Catholic Cowboy, who captured the 2014 Claiming Crown Jewel, will attempt to improve upon a third-place finish in last year’s Sunshine Millions Classic.
“He won the Claiming Crown last year and ran a good race in this race,” trainer Nick Zito said. “I might have gotten a little too ambitious running him in the Donn, but he really loves this racetrack.” David Melin, Leon Ellman and Laurie Plesa’s Mr. Jordan is scheduled to run in the Classic off short rest following a disappointing fifth-place finish in last weekend’s Hal’s Hope (G3), in which he was bumped and impeded at the start.
Ione Elkins’ Yourdreamsormine, a late-running winner of the Florida Sire Stakes Unbridled; Team Valor International’s Mexikoma, a two-time allowance winner over sloppy tracks at Belmont last year who finished fifth in the Harlan’s Holiday last time out; and PHS Racing and Run Hard Stables’ Abounding Legacy, a 3 ¾-length optional claiming allowance winner at Gulfstream last time out; bring solid credentials into the Classic.
Christian Maingot and Jose Pinchin’s Morgans Harbor and Golden Age Stable’s Roll on the Navajo round out the field.