MIAMI GARDENS, FL - Continuing an upward progression that began this summer, Saraguaro followed his first stakes victory last month with another strong performance on Saturday, winning the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Classic Preview by 1 ¼ lengths at Gulfstream Park West.
The 1 1/16-mile Classic was the fourth of eight stakes for Florida-breds worth total purses of $800,000 on the 10-race Preview Day program that serve as stepping stones for Sunshine Millions Day Jan. 16 at Gulfstream Park.
A two-length winner of the Florida Stallion Foolish Pleasure Oct. 3 at Gulfstream, Saraguaro now owns three wins from five starts since returning from a 5 ½-month layoff to break his maiden in mid-July. He fell and lost his rider in the final start of his juvenile season last December, and opened 2015 running second in a Gulfstream maiden special weight Feb. 7.
"Since we first got him, we've always thought he was a nice horse," said winning trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who also owns a share of the 3-year-old Express Tour colt with Thoroughbred Acquisition Group. "We put blinkers on him and the first time we ran him [with them], he fell down [when] a horse went in front of him. He ran a good second to Danzig Moon, who went to the [Kentucky] Derby, and after that he just wasn't right."
Joseph gave Saraguaro some time, and the chestnut responded with a 5 ¼-length maiden triumph Jul y 17, beating older horses. Off the board in the Florida Stallion Unbridled Aug. 8, he was third in an optional claimer 21 days later before putting it all together in a two-length Foolish Pleasure victory.
"We couldn't figure out anything, so we decided to just stop with him. The last couple of races things have really come together for him," Joseph said. "He ran big today. It looked like they were trying to get to him at the end, but if you look at the replay he galloped out five lengths ahead."
Second choice in a field of seven at 5-2, Saraguaro ($7.20) broke from the far outside under jockey Eddie Castro and settled in fourth behind Grade 3 stakes winner City of Weston, who ran the opening quarter-mile in 24.47 seconds. Racing along the rail, City of Weston was passed by Nauset Beach after a half in 49.40, with Southern Barbecue and Saraguaro right behind.
Castro steered Saraguaro to the outside for a clear run and they took over the top spot approaching the stretch, extending the lead past the eighth pole and holding off a resurgent Nauset Beach, hitting the wire in 1:45.65. Southern Barbecue took third, 2 ¾ lengths behind Nauset Beach, with Aces for John another three lengths back in fourth.
Defending Classic Preview winner East Hall was fifth as the 7-5 favorite. City of Weston and Yourdreamsormine completed the order of finish.
"He didn't break really sharp right away but I put him in good position. I knew I had to ride the horse a little bit to keep him busy. I rode him before, so I know the horse a little bit," Castro said. "At the three-eighths pole I started to ride the horse and nobody came with me. He felt great today. He stayed in the bit the whole way so when I asked him, he had a nice kick at the finish."
Saraguaro now has three wins from 10 starts and improved his bankroll to $205,504. He will be pointed to the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, run at 1 1/8 miles.
"The last two races we changed the blinkers on him and went to a fuller cup," Joseph said. "Two turns is what he wants. We're just happy to get through today, obviously. They have the Sunshine Millions in January; that would be the target."
The third annual Preview Day program kicked off in thrilling fashion when Glen Hill Farm's Old Time Hockey rallied on the far outside and emerged from a four-way photo finish to win the $100,000 Millions Turf by a head over One Step Salsa and Rizwan, who dead-heated for second. Grade 3 winner Reporting Star, the 2-5 favorite, was another head back in fourth.
Jockey Ronald Allen Jr. rated 6-year-old Old Time Hockey in mid-pack as Padilla took the field of eight through an opening quarter-mile in 24.01 seconds, a half in 49.48 and six furlongs in 1:13.75. Rizwan, one of two 3-year-olds in the race, took the lead at the top of the stretch and stubbornly held on as Reporting Star on his inside and One Step Salsa to the outside moved in to challenge.
It was Old Time Hockey ($10) on the far outside who finished fastest and won the bob, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.60 in his Gulfstream Park West debut.
"He always runs strong," Allen said. "Down the backside I thought I was going to win easy, but they were running kind of slow up front. I had to ride him pretty good coming down the stretch. He's the kind of horse you have to ride pretty hard to keep going."
Owner-trainer Eddie Broome's Brandy's Girl had a much easier time in the $100,00 Juvenile Fillies Sprint, breaking on top and leading all the way around for a commanding 4 ¾-length victory over Silent Prayer.
Favored at 2-5 over six other 2-year-old fillies and ridden by Paco Lopez, Brandy's Girl ($2.80) ran 6 ½ furlongs in 1:18.59 in her stakes debut. The dark bay or brown daughter of Posse broke her maiden Sept. 26 at Monmouth Park in similar front-running fashion, drawing off to win by 12 ¼ lengths.
In her first start for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, Jewel of a Cat stalked pacesetting Noble Prince into the far turn before taking over the top spot and pulling away down the stretch to win the $100,000 Turf Sprint by three lengths and give Lopez his second straight victory.
A 5-year-old daughter of Wildcat Heir, Jewel of a Cat ($11.20) had not won since taking the Ladies Turf Sprint in February at Gulfstream Park. She completed five furlongs in 56.80 seconds. Katie's Kiss, the 9-5 favorite, got up for second to complete the all-female exacta, with Delta Bluesman and Noble Prince dead-heating for third.
J and J Stables and GSP Stable's Jewel of a Cat now has six wins and $390,450 in purse earnings from 22 lifetime starts.