The Sunshine Millions, which died in infancy a couple of years ago, gets off the ground today at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, where horses bred in California and Florida will run in eight races worth $3.6 million.
In a sense, the Millions mirrors Sunday's Super Bowl in San Diego, where two-legged opponents from California and Florida will be paired.
Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park are owned by Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment Corp. To get three of the Sunshine Millions races on NBC, Magna spent a reported $400,000 for a one-hour slot (noon to 1 p.m. PST). Jack Liebau, president of Santa Anita, said that the sale of commercial time will negate that expense.
NBC will carry the first three races -- the $250,000 Filly & Mare Sprint and the $1-million Classic from Gulfstream, which will be sandwiched around the $500,000 Turf at Santa Anita. Besides the $250,000 Oaks, the $250,000 Sprint and the $750,000 Distaff at Santa Anita, the $250,000 Dash and the $350,000 Filly & Mare Turf will be run at Gulfstream. Santa Anita has also carded one of its mainstay stakes, the $200,000 Santa Monica Handicap, plus the $75,000 Exceller Handicap.
On the day before the Super Bowl a year ago, Liebau said, Santa Anita drew a crowd of 12,000. He's projecting an increase of 6,000 for today.
"This event will allow two of the country's best thoroughbred breeding states to compete against each other in an exciting and unique way," Stronach said. "We hope to grow this into a premier event on the annual racing calendar."
Owners of horses that are flown from one state to another will be reimbursed $10,000 per horse if their runners don't earn purse money. Only a handful of horses have come to Santa Anita from Florida, compared to 18 California-based horses that will be running at Gulfstream.
"I'm amazed how well-organized this thing is, considering this is the first time," said John Ward Jr., who trains Booklet, one of the 12 horses that will run in the 1 1/8-mile Classic.
Some jockeys based in either Florida or California had to make choices regarding where they'd ride. Jerry Bailey, expected to win a sixth Eclipse Award when the best of 2002 are honored Monday night in Beverly Hills, usually rides at Gulfstream, but he'll be at Santa Anita today. He has three mounts in the Millions, but the main reason he has traveled is to ride Sightseek, trainer Bobby Frankel's favorite in the Santa Monica.
Pat Valenzuela, leading rider at Santa Anita, has gone to Gulfstream for four Millions mounts, headed by Continental Red, a 7-year-old California-bred gelding who has made a successful switch from grass to dirt.
"I'm not sure how this is going to work out logistically," said trainer Jenine Sahadi, who's running Spinelessjellyfish, a 7-year-old, in the Turf at Santa Anita. "Maybe they might think about running all the races in Florida one year and all of them in California the next year. We're going to be watching our horses on TV from Florida, but a true fan wants to be there for all these races."
Mike Smith never lost a race with the undefeated Vindication, winning all four times he rode the colt, but he's being replaced by Jerry Bailey on the early Kentucky Derby favorite.
Earlier this week, trainer Bob Baffert, who trains Vindication, said Smith had lost the mount on Composure, one of the top 3-year-old fillies, and Bailey could inherit that horse as well.
Smith won twice with Composure before finishing second with her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Starlet at Hollywood Park.