First Dude looks for good start to 2011

Updated: January 28, 2011, 5:02 PM ET
By Mike Welsch | Daily Racing Form



HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- The Sunshine Millions, the brainchild of MI Developments chairman and founder Frank Stronach, began in 2003 as a series of eight races restricted to Florida- and California-breds in late January at the Stronach-owned tracks of Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. One of the original concepts of Sunshine Millions was to foster a rivalry between the breeding industries within the two states. But as the years passed, interest in the actual competition between the two statebred programs has dwindled as has both the purse money and number of races being offered on Sunshine Millions Day.

On Saturday, Gulfstream and Santa Anita will host the ninth edition of the Sunshine Millions, and although the number of races has declined from eight to six -- three at each venue -- the series has attracted some top horses. First Dude, runner-up last season in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, Haskell, and Travers, tops the $500,000 Classic at Gulfstream, where he will face Duke of Mischief. Other big names in the $1.8 million series include Cost of Freedom (Sprint), Evening Jewel (Distaff), and The Usual Q.T. and Presious Passion (Turf).

The Sunshine Millions races will be broadcast live on HRTV, with former jockey Richard Migliore and Caton Bredar hosting on site at Gulfstream. The Classic will be supported at Gulfstream by the $200,000 Filly and Mare Sprint and the $300,000 Filly and Mare Turf. Of the 36 horses entered in those three races, only two were bred in California.

The Santa Anita portion of the program comprises the $500,000 Distaff, $300,000 Turf, and $200,000 Sprint. The six races will begin at 4:16 p.m. Eastern with the Filly and Mare Sprint at Gulfstream and conclude nearly two hours later at Santa Anita with the Distaff. Post Time for the Classic is 5:26 p.m.

The Classic purse is $500,000 for the second straight year, down from the $1 million prize offered in the first seven renewals of the event. The race did not lure a single California-bred among the 10 horses entered. One of the Classic entrants, Honour the Deputy, was not on the flight that brought the rest of the West Coast contingent to Miami on Tuesday.

First Dude will make his 4-year-old debut as the favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Classic. Trainer Dale Romans elected to pass the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here next week to start First Dude against restricted company Saturday.

"I could run him in the Donn, but the purse is the same for the Sunshine Millions, so it makes sense to make things as easy I can for him," Romans said.

First Dude has not started since finishing eighth after setting the pace in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He has worked steadily over the local strip in preparation for his return, posting six workouts since Dec. 21 including one over the turf. First Dude will break from post 1.

"I'd rather be on the inside than the outside going a mile and one eighth over this track," Romans said. "He can take back and rate just off the pace, if he has to, but if they let him go early, he can take the lead, too."

First Dude will race without blinkers for the first time since the Haskell in the Classic.

First Dude figures to receive his stiffest competition from Birdrun and Duke of Mischief, the first- and second-place finishers, respectively, in Calder's Carl Rose Classic on Nov. 13.

Birdrun was never better than at the end of 2010. A son of Birdstone, Birdrun earned a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure dominating third-level optional claiming horses at Belmont Park before easily defeating the 4-5 Duke of Mischief by 4 1/2 lengths in the Carl Rose. Trained by Bill Mott, Birdrun posted a pair of bullet works a week apart at Payson Park in final preparation for the Classic.

Duke of Mischief won three graded stakes last season, including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. But unlike Birdrun, Duke of Mischief closed his season on a bit of a down note when upset in the Carl Rose before returning 13 days later to finish fifth (via a disqualification) after pressing the pace in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

"He was a little too close in the Clark, but there is enough speed in here that he should be able to lay back off the lead in the Classic," Duke of Mischief's trainer David Fawkes said.

Tackleberry, who led throughout to win Calder's Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap, could set the pace in the Classic.

Dry Martini, 8, finished a distant second behind Quality Road in the 2010 Donn and seeks his first victory since capturing the Grade 2 Suburban in 2009.

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