Steal Sunshine, Last Leaf Do Gulfstream Proud in Kentucky
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The two most accomplished 3-year-olds during Gulfstream Park’s Royal Palm Meet extended their divisional dominance to Kentucky’s Ellis Park last weekend.
Carrie Brogden and Little Red Feather Racing’s Steal Sunshine and Monarch Stable’s Last Leaf visited the Ellis Park winner’s circle following their respective victories in the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby and the $100,000 Audubon Oaks, underscoring the strength of the South Florida racing program during the summer months.
Steal Sunshine, who had romped to victory in a mile optional starting allowance and the seven-furlong Carry Back Stakes at Gulfstream in his two prior starts, was ninth and last during the early going of the two-turn mile stakes for 3-year-olds before steadily advancing into contention by mid-stretch. Leonel Reyes, his Gulfstream-based jockey, made a decisive move from behind a wall of horses to the inside, where the son of Constitution surged past his rivals on the way to a 3 ¼-length victory.
“He’s getting better and better and more settled – except when I was saddling him, he was putting on a show. He gave me a little bit of a hard time,” trainer Bobby Dibona said Wednesday. “It looks like he’s going to be pretty honest.”
Steal Sunshine broke his maiden by more than 10 lengths in his second career start and first race on dirt. Two starts later, he finished second in an optional claiming allowance behind Skippylongstocking, who went on to finish third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and win the West Virginia Derby (G3). The Dibona trainee made his stakes debut April 2 in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1), in which he closed from 11th to finish sixth.
“He didn’t run bad in the Florida Derby. He had a bad post. It was a good effort. We were pleased,” Dibona said. “He wasn’t quite there yet. Now, if he was to run in that race again against the same horses and draw well, I think he would make a very good account of himself.”
In his most recent Gulfstream start in the July 9 Carry Back, the Kentucky-bred colt rallied from last to win going away by 2 ¼ lengths, setting up his late-closing performance in the two-turn Ellis Park Derby.
“It was pretty exciting. You know, I kind of expect that now,” Dibona said. “I looked at the race pretty closely. I thought based on his win in Florida [in the Carry Back], he had a strong chance.”
Dibona said he and Steal Sunshine’s connections will consider their options before deciding on a next race for the late-developing colt.
Earlier on the card, Dibona came close to winning the $125,000 Ellis Park Debutante for 2-year-old fillies with Keith Johnston and Philip D’Cosmo’s Tap’er Light, a daughter of Mineshaft who had graduated by two lengths in her July 22 debut at Gulfstream Park.
“She finished third, but they had her boxed in. She just couldn’t get through the hole. If she gets through, I win,” Dibona said.
Trainer Ron Spatz, who had saddled Last Leaf for seven victories from 15 career starts and stakes victories on turf and dirt, watched the 3-year-old daughter of Not This Time in his South Florida living room.
“If someone had been with me in my living room watching the TV, they would have said. ‘Who is this crazy man running around the room, clapping his hands and screaming like a little kid,’” Spatz said. “It was exciting, really exciting.”
With Spatz opting to remain home, Last Leaf was sent to Kentucky-based trainer Eddie Kenneally a week before the race.
Last Leaf, who captured the 6 ½-furlong Game Face and the seven-furlong Azalea in her two prior starts at Gulfstream, stalked the pace three-wide before kicking in through the stretch to win by 1 ¾ lengths under Rafael Bejarano in the seven-furlong Audubon Oaks.
“She’s a neat little horse,” Spatz said.
Small in stature, Last Leaf has shown abundant heart while excelling at sprint distances on turf and dirt. Dirt races present more favorable race scenarios for the Kentucky-bed filly, who was sold for $7000 as a weanling, $10,000 as a yearling and $23,500 as a 2-year-old.
“I think the distance on turf have compromised her a little. Five-eighths on turf is too short – she gets up or she doesn’t. Two turns doesn’t seem right for her,” said Spatz, who did saddle Last Leaf for a victory over the boys in the five-furlong Hollywood Beach on turf last year.
Last Leaf will remain in Kentucky with Kenneally this fall. The $300,000 Open Mind at six-furlongs at Churchill Downs Sept. 18 and the $350,000 Raven Run (G2) at seven furlongs at Keeneland Oct. 22 are options.