Bold Chieftain wins $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic

It was the experience of horse and jockey, combined with racing luck, that enabled 7-year-old Bold Chieftain and 51-year-old Russell Baze to come away victorious Saturday in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita.

Baze, the all-time leader in races won in North America, faced a traffic jam in the stretch but found an opening and sent Bold Chieftain through it for a neck victory over Palladio in the 1 1/8 -mile race. Unusual Smoke was third.

“We were in tight,” Baze said. “He was brave to go through it.”

It was the 12th stakes victory over the last 3 1/2 years in California for Bold Chieftain, who raised his career earnings to $1,406,411. Trainer Bill Morey Jr., the third veteran in the group, was thrilled afterward.

“These are the kinds of things that leave you breathless and make the game so much fun, and we’re supposed to have fun out here,” he said.

Added Baze: “This ranks right up there with any race I’ve ever won.”

The Usual Q.T. was sent off as the 11-10 favorite after having won six consecutive races on the turf, but the 4-year-old gelding had no excuses in fading to last in a field of nine after challenging pacesetter Enriched for much of the race.

“It would be silly not to go back to turf,” trainer James Cassidy said.

Santa Anita went through some tough times two weeks ago, losing three days of racing because of rain and poor track conditions, but the sun was out, 18,000 beach umbrellas were handed out among the crowd of 21,487 and the out-of-state handle was probably given a boost by the fact racing cards had to be canceled at Aqueduct in New York because of cold weather and Laurel Park in Maryland because of snow.

The Sunshine Millions featured six stakes races between California- and Florida-breds, with three run at Santa Anita and three at Gulfstream Park.

In the $200,000 Filly & Mare Sprint at six furlongs, jockey Rafael Bejarano gave his patented firm ride at the finish to help Quisisana emerge with a nose victory over Dubai Majesty. Dotsy Jean was third. It was one of five winning rides for Bejarano on the 11-race card.

Quisisana, a 5-year-old trained by Mike Puype, has been a hard-trying mare, having finished no worse than fourth in her 10 career starts.

“She’s tough. . . . They ran right to her, and she held them off,” Puype said. “Raffy gave her a perfect ride. I’m proud of the way she dug in when the other horse got to her.”

Florida-bred Tight Precision, sent off as the 6-5 favorite, won the $300,000 Filly & Mare Turf at 1 1/8 miles, overhauling Bootleg Annie and Pretty Unusual to win by 1 1/2 lengths under Joel Rosario.