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Tackleberry Scores 27-1 Upset In Sunshine Millions Classic
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Louis Olivares enjoyed success at the very highest echelon of Thoroughbred racing during his 33-year training career while campaigning Grade 1 turf stars Flying Pidgeon and Powder Break.
The Cuban-born trainer, though, had never enjoyed a more lucrative triumph than he did Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where he saddled Tackleberry for a rousing 27-1 upset in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, one of three stakes slated for horses bred in Florida and California.
“This is the biggest purse I’ve won,” the 63-year-old South Florida-based trainer said. “I won a $400,000 (Florida) Stallion Stakes and a Grade 1 in California years ago with Powder Break.”
Overlooked in the betting that was dominated by First Dude, Tackleberry ($56.60) out-sprinted the 4-5 favorite right from the start of the 1-1/8-mile stakes and never looked back. As First Dude was wrangled back to fourth by jockey Kent Desormeaux in an effort to get to the outside on the first turn, Tackleberry opened a clear lead over Duke of Mischief, who stalked the pace along the backstretch before Eibar Coa asked him for run on the far turn. Duke of Mischief pulled alongside Tackleberry on the turn into the homestretch and appeared on his way to victory at the top of the stretch. However, under strong urging from jockey Javier Santiago, Tackleberry withstood the threat and drew away to a 2-1/4-length victory.
“The trainer told me to go to the lead no matter what. He said this horse does his best when he’s on the lead. I was a little surprised there wasn’t more pressure on me, but I guess the other riders saw my horse as a longshot and left us alone,” Santiago said. “In the stretch, I was asking him and asking him – I wasn’t looking back at anybody else.”
The Florida-bred winner ran the 1-1/8 miles in 1:48 2/5 after setting fractions of :24 2/5, :48 3/5, 1:12 and 1:35 4/5. Duke of Mischief finished 1-1/4 lengths clear of Dream Maestro, a 50-1 outsider ridden by Juan Leyva. First Dude, who was favored on the strength of five straight Grade 1 stakes-placed efforts last year, was another nose back in fourth.
“We wanted to take him off the pace today, and I was able to do that,” Desormeaux said of First Dude’s first start of the year. “He hasn’t been performing up to what the team thinks he should, so we wanted to get him to the outside and give him his best chance.”
In addition to celebrating his most lucrative training success, Olivares also collected his largest winning purse ($275,000) as an owner. The son of Montbrook, who was purchased privately by Olivares as a 2-year-old, finished fourth in the Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream on Jan. 8 after winning his previous four starts, including the Fred Hooper (G3), in front-running style.
“He loves to run and wants the lead. Last time he stumbled and broke bad at the start and didn’t get to run his race,” Olivares said. “He’s a fighter. He looks like he’s dead at the top of the stretch and he fights back”
Olivares said there was a possibility he could run back Tackleberry next weekend at Gulfstream Park, where the $500,000 Donn Handicap will be contested.
A Winning Trip for ‘A.J.’
Breeder/owner Peter Fuller had no hard feelings when trainer Milt Wolfson claimed Annabill from him several years back and went on to win more than $600,000 in purses with the Boston sportsman’s homebred filly. Remembering Wolfson’s success with Annabill, Fuller wisely decided to send her half-sister, Trip for A.J., to the Calder-based trainer a couple years ago. It turned out to be a winning move.
Trip for A.J. ($14.40), already a multiple-stakes winner, scored her most lucrative victory for her connections Saturday in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf.
The Florida-bred 4-year-old filly received a dream trip under jockey John Velazquez on her way to victory in 1-1/8-mile turf stakes. The Fuller homebred filly saved valuable ground while closely monitoring the early leaders before being taken to the outside by jockey John Velazquez on the turn into the homestretch. The daughter of Trippi sprinted to the lead in mid-stretch and resolutely held off the late outside bid by Askbut I Won’ttell by a half-length.
“I think a mile-and-an-eighth might be a little far for her, so I wanted to reserve as much as I could for the stretch run,” Velazquez said. “It worked perfectly.”
Trip for A.J. ran 1-1/8 miles in 1:49 2/5 while collecting her seventh victory in 14 starts and 4th stakes victory. Askbut I Won’ttell, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, finished 2-1/4 lengths clear of Scolara and Desormeaux in third.
Trip for A.J., who came into the race with $236,145, had finished fifth in the Marshua’s River (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 9.
“She was a little short for her last race. She had an abscess in a foot a couple of weeks before. I was afraid to train her too hard coming up to the race, but we got that cleaned up and were able to get her ready for this one properly,” Wolfson said. “She’s been so exciting to have. She runs on turf or dirt, but I’d rather keep her on turf as long as possible.”
Wolfson, who also trains Trip for A.J.’s unraced 3-year-old half-sister, said he didn’t know where his Sunshine Millions winner would start next.
Dynaslew, the 2-1 favorite ridden who was fractious in the starting gate, faded to last after showing early speed.
“She was a little keen and I think what happened in the gate showed in the result of the race,” Coa said.
Aegean Turns Back “Jessica”
Aegean scored the must lucrative victory of her career in the $120,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint, holding off a late surge by Jessica Is Back by a nose.
The 4-year-old Florida-bred filly ($20.20) raced wide throughout the six-furlong sprint, stalking the early pace before challenging for the lead on the turn into the homestretch. The Wesley Ward-trained filly out-battled pacesetter Feel That Fire in deep stretch, only to be threatened by a furious rail bid by Jessica Is Back. Under strong urging from jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, Aegean had just enough left to notch her fifth victory in 13 lifetime starts.
“The plan was to let the speed go and take a hold of her and sit about a length off the pace,” Sanchez said. “She waited a little bit on the other horses in the stretch, but when I hit her with the whip left-handed she really took off.”
Jessica Is Back, who finished second in last year’s Sunshine Millions Distaff, raced along the rail throughout the race under Alex Solis and lacked running room until Wildcat Heiress drifted out in mid-stretch. The Martin Wolfson-trained Grade 1 stakes winner finished three-quarters of a length ahead of a game Feel That Fire, who set pressured fractions of :22 1/5, :45 and :56 4/5 for five furlongs.
Aegean, who ran six furlongs in 1:09 3/5, held such promise after winning the first two start of her career that Ward shipped her to England to run in a stakes at Royal Ascot, where she finished ninth in the Albany Stakes (G3). The daughter of Northern Afleet went winless in her next four starts before winning an allowance race at Monmouth last summer and notching her first stakes victory at Churchill Downs last fall.
“She was very good in her first two races. It took a long, long time to get her back on her best game after the trip to England, but she started to get going good last fall winning the race at Churchill Downs on Breeders’ Cup weekend,” Ward said. “The goal this year will be the (Breeders’ Cup) Filly & Mare Sprint at Churchill. I want to space her races out pretty good from here, so I don’t have anything picked out just yet.”
Aegean earned $110,000 for owner Steven Michael Bell.
Amen Hallelujah, the 6-5 favorite ridden by Julien Leparoux, started running too late in a fifth-place finish.
“I actually had a great trip. At the quarter pole I was right where I wanted to be. When I asked her, she didn’t have it at all,” Leparoux said. “I think maybe more distance would be better. She hadn’t run since June, so maybe she needed the race.”