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Sir Ollie Steps Up and Cajun Brother Out to Defend Title in Sunshine Millions Saturday at Gulfstream

Gulfstream Complete Digest

Peter Vegso’s Sir Ollie, having successfully bridged a nine-month gap between races and a change of barns, stretches out for the longest and toughest test of his young career in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Classic at Gulfstream Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Classic serves as the co-headliner on an 11-race program along with the $75,000 Sunshine Sprint at six furlongs, each for Florida-bred 4-year-olds and up. Both races offer a $25,000 FSS bonus to the winner.

First race post time is noon.

Sir Ollie, a 4-year-old son of 2009 Florida Derby (G1) winner Quality Road, made the first three starts of his career for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. He won a six-furlong maiden special weight in his New Year’s Eve 2020 debut, coming from well back to get up by a neck.

In two starts at 3, Sir Ollie was beaten less than a length as the favorite in an entry-level allowance sprinting seven furlongs last January and was third in a similar spot going 6 ½ furlongs last March, also as the bettors’ choice.

Sir Ollie joined trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. last summer and returned to the work tab in late August at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, where he worked steadily toward his return which came in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 8 at Gulfstream.

“That was the first time he ran for us,” Joseph, the Championship Meet’s leading trainer, said. “He was coming off a layoff and I didn’t think he was quite 100 percent fit, but we needed to get him started. I thought he ran creditable. I think the added distance shouldn’t hinder him, so we’ll give him a chance here.”

In his most recent start, Sir Ollie pressed pacesetting Tiger for six furlongs before taking a short lead into the stretch and sprinting clear to win by three lengths in 1:35.46.

“Going into the race I was a little concerned that we didn’t have him as fit as the layoff as we could, but we needed to get him started,” Joseph said. “To see him win like that, you would think that he should improve from that race to this race.”

Junior Alvarado, aboard in each of Sir Ollie’s first three starts, will climb back aboard from the rail in a field of seven.

“We got him three or four months before he ran. He had run some good races before he came in, and he’s a very good-looking horse. He trained with purpose. Each time you work him he works well enough that you think he has some class to him. For him go out and win was nice to see,” Joseph said. “You would think the distance, with the way he looks and the way he runs, that he should stretch out.”

Donegal Racing’s Shamrocket is entered to make his 5-year-old debut in the Classic. By 2014 Belmont (G1) winner Tonalist, the 5-year-old has raced exclusively on turf through 21 starts including a victory in the 1 ½-mile Point of Entry last October at Belmont Park. Shamrocket has placed in five other stakes including a second in the Sunshine Turf and a third in the Bowling Green (G3) last year.

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano is named to ride from Post 3.

Proud Stable Inc.’s Big Venezuela ships in from Maryland for trainer Bruno Tessore. The 4-year-old Social Inclusion gelding has finished in the money in eight consecutive starts and 11 of his last 12, with three wins. Big Venezuela has faced open company in his past 13 races and has a wealth of two-turn experience, including one win, one second and one third in three lifetime tries at 1 1/8 miles.

Big Venezuela ran third as the favorite in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 31 at Laurel Park. Shamrocket and Glory of Florida are the only other horses in the field to have tried 1 1/8 miles; though neither has won, Shamrocket does have two seconds and two thirds.

“I think that’s a plus for him,” Tessore said. “I tried running this horse off the pace but he does the same thing. He kind of struggles the last sixteenth. When I ran him the last time at Laurel I thought it was going to be better for him, but he did the same.

“I think the experience of him going a mile and an eighth and not having any other horses running the distance that are in race will be better for him,” he added. “I decided to bring him to Gulfstream because I think the mile and an eighth here and the way the track plays could be good for him to go all the way, wire to wire.”

Big Venezuela made his first two career starts in South Florida before Tessore bought him privately and took him to Tampa Bay Downs, where he ran 10th in a maiden special weight before graduating in a 1 1/16-mile maiden claimer on the turf. He has raced exclusively at Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course since.

“When I first bought the horse, I thought he was a really nice horse. I trained him at Tampa and he disappointed me the first time he ran for me,” Tessore said. “I dropped him to the claiming races. It took me a little bit to figure him out and now I think I’ve got him figured out.”

Championship Meet leader Luis Saez gets the assignment from Post 2.

Glenn Fagan’s Glory of Florida enters the Classic having run fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Claiming Crown Jewel Dec. 4 at Gulfstream. The 6-year-old is also by a Florida Derby winner, 2011’s Dialed In, and owns two wins, five seconds and a fourth in the 2021 Big Drama from 12 starts since being claimed for $25,000 by trainer Laura Cazares Dec. 9, 2020.

Miguel Vasquez rides for the sixth straight race from outside Post 7.

Arindel homebred Hercules will be chasing his first victory since putting together three consecutive wins last winter and sprint at Gulfstream, all going one mile. The Brethren gelding has encountered trouble in each of his last two starts after running third in a one-mile, 70-yard optional claiming allowance in October in his Tapeta debut.

Hercules gets the services of Rafael Hernandez from Post 6.

Amaty Racing Stables, Inc.’s Nacho Papa will be making his first start since being claimed for $12,500 out of a fourth-place finish behind Sir Ollie in the Dec. 8 race at Gulfstream. Also by Brethren, the 6-year-old gelding has been popular at the claim box, changing hands eight times over his last nine starts. He has faced stakes company before but not since August 2019, and was third in the 2018 Hollywood Beach at Gulfstream.

Edwin Gonzalez has the mount from Post 4.

Bianco Stable’s Braccio Di Ferro, 10th last out in the Claiming Crown Jewel, completes the field.

David Bernsen’s Cajun Brother is set to make his 5-year-old debut with the chance defend his title and earn the first win for his new connections in Saturday’s $75,000 Sunshine Sprint at Gulfstream Park.

The six-furlong Sprint serves as the co-headliner on an 11-race program along with the $75,000 Sunshine Classic going 1 1/8 miles, each for Florida-bred 4-year-olds and up. Both races offer a $25,000 FSS bonus to the winner.

First race post time is noon.

Cajun Brother will be making his third start for trainer Bob Hess Jr. after being claimed for $35,000 out of an optional claiming allowance victory sprinting six furlongs last September at Gulfstream. Hess credited Bernsen with picking out the Cajun Breeze gelding.

“The horse is talented. He’s beautiful. It took me a while to get him figured out, but I think we’re on top of it now. He looks great and he’s doing quite well, so I’m expecting not necessarily a victory but a much improved effort,” Hess said. “He’s actually doing really well. I’m excited about the race.”

Cajun Brother earned his fourth win and first in a stakes in last year’s Sprint, where he beat Group 1-winning millionaire Extravagant Kid by a neck at odds of 14-1 for previous trainer Michael Yates. He followed up by running third in the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) to another Grade 1 winner in Mischevious Alex before finishing off the board in back-to-back starts including his turf debut.

After returning to the winner’s circle following a determined effort along the rail, Cajun Brother ran behind fellow Sprint rivals Gatsby and Pudding in successive starts for Hess, chasing the early pace in both before tiring late.

“There was definitely a learning curve. Yates did a real good job with him and it took me a while to figure him out,” Hess said. “He’s definitely going in the right direction.

“He’s just real sharp again. The look in his eye, he’s real confident, real happy, real aggressive,” he added. “He just had a few things that were bugging him, just little things, and now he’s 100 percent healthy.”

Junior Alvarado is named to ride Cajun Brother from the far outside in a field of eight.

“Regardless of how it plays out, I just think he’s definitely back to where he needs to be, mentally and physically, and he’ll run as well as he can run,” Hess said. “I think that’s where we have him. Hopefully I’m right. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”

Trainer Carlos David will be represented by stablemates Gatsby and Legal Deal in the Sprint. Arindel homebred Gatsby and Michele and Lawrence Sargent’s Legal Deal are both front-running types that have combined to win 10 races and more than $416,000 in purse earnings.

“They’re both very nice horses,” David said. “I’d hate for those two horses to battle each other on the lead or anything like that. It’s never good for a trainer to be in that position. I just have to tell the [jockeys] to just ride your own race, try not to bother each other and be fair. They’re both doing really, really good.”

Gatsby is a three-time winner that has finished third or better in 10 of 18 career starts. After breaking his maiden at first asking in April 2020, he ran in six consecutive stakes and placed twice, finishing second in the FTBOA Florida Sire Dr. Fager at Gulfstream and Juvenile Sprint at Gulfstream Park West.

By Brethren, Gatsby was 7-for-11 in the money as a 3-year-old in 2021, most recently finishing second by a half-length to Grade 1 winner Drain the Clock in a six-furlong optional claiming allowance Dec. 10 at Gulfstream. The winning time that day was 1:08.63 over a fast track.

“Drain the Clock, of course he was the horse to beat that day. I think Gatsby gave him a run for his money,” David said. “He ran really, really good. I liked my horse going into the race. I talked Brian [Cohen] from Arindel and he was like, if he’s going to face these horses during the championship meet, we have to run him and see where he’s at.

“It was important that he give us a good performance,” he added. “I think he fits in because he’s a Florida-bred coming off that open race running second to Drain the Clock. I think he’s going to be one of the favorites, especially with that time. They went fast.”

Legal Deal has run first or second in three of his last four starts, winning an optional claiming allowance in July and a starter optional claimer in October at Gulfstream. In his most recent start, the 5-year-old Khozan gelding was beaten 1 ¼ lengths by Grade 3 winner Miles Ahead in the seven-furlong Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Dec. 4.

David claimed Legal Deal for $12,500 out of his third straight win Aug. 15, 2020 at Gulfstream. In his third start after the claim, Legal Deal won the 2020 Millions Sprint Preview at Gulfstream Park West and was fifth in last year’s Sprint after being bumped at the start.

“That last race, he really dug in. Miles Ahead, it was kind of the same deal as Drain the Clock. They’ve got to face these top horses but they fight and they show up for us. I’m really glad that they’re running good and they’re sound and that he’s become this type of horse after being claimed for [$12,500]. He’s amazing.

“I couldn’t tell you which one is better. Legal Deal, he’s a year older than Gatsby so he might have the upper hand there, but I think Gatsby’s a lot faster,” he added. “He’s lighter. Legal Deal has never gone in 1:08. We’ll see. There’s going to be some other fast horses in that race. It’s not just those two.”

Championship Meet-leading rider Luis Saez has the call on Gatsby from Post 5, while Edwin Gonzalez will be aboard Legal Deal from Post 7.

Stonehedge homebred Poppy’s Pride won the 2020 Armed Forces at Gulfstream, Juvenile Sprint at Gulfstream West and Inaugural at Tampa Bay Downs in succession to cap his 2-year-old season, and finished fifth to Drain the Clock after setting the pace in the 2021 Swale (G3). He went unraced for seven months and has gone winless in his last three starts, encountering trouble when seventh in the Dec. 11 race with Pudding, Gatsby and Cajun Brother.

Miguel Vasquez will ride Poppy’s Pride from Post 4.

Also entered are 2020 FSS In Reality winner Boca Boy; Cool Quest, who beat state-breds sprinting 5 ½ furlongs Dec. 12 at Gulfstream; stakes-placed Lugamo, unraced since last June; and Pudding, most recently third in the Rapid Transit.


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