Despite never starting on dirt in prior 21 trips to the post in his four seasons of racing, Donegal Racing's Shamrocket bulldozed his way down the center of the Gulfstream Park track to collar a game Sir Ollie nearing the wire in the $75,000 Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes Jan. 15.
“(Shamrocket has) always trained well on (the dirt), and we were kind of looking for the right time to give it a try," said Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. "I talked to (Donegal head) Jerry Crawford and decided to go ahead and give it a try. It could open up some options for him. I think he’s a horse that might even handle some of these longer dirt races, marathon-type dirt races, down the road. I'm happy for the horse and proud of him for getting the job done."
The Sunshine Millions Classic, along with the Sunshine Millions Sprint Stakes later on the card, placed Florida-breds in the spotlight on the Saturday card.
Five-year-old Shamrocket entered the Sunshine Millions Classic, a 1 1/8-mile test for 4-year-olds and up, as a stakes winner on the grass. Two starts ago he was victorious in the 1 1/2-mile Point of Entry Stakes at Belmont Park before finishing fifth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, in the Nov. 20 Red Smith Stakes (G2T) at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Off as the 6-5 favorite against six relatively unaccomplished rivals in the Classic, Shamrocket benefited from a patient ride from jockey Javier Castellano, as the pair bided their time in fourth through early fractions of :24.81 and :49.71. Up front, Big Venezuela and second-choice Sir Ollie took turns on the lead before Sir Ollie put away that foe and vied for command with 43-1 shot Nacho Papa as the field charged around the final turn and into the lane. Castellano meanwhile guided Shamrocket four wide for the stretch run and the bay closed relentlessly, wearing down Sir Ollie in the closing strides for a half-length triumph.
Shamrocket was timed in 1:52.26 on a fast track. Nacho Papa held third.
"I had a perfect trip. I didn't want to be too far back because he's the one-run type of horse. I didn't want him to think too much and didn't want him to get too much dirt in his face or get bounced around in his first race on dirt," Castellano said.
Bred in Florida by Rustlewood Farm, Shamrocket is by Belmont Stakes (G1) hero Tonalist and out of the Storm Cat mare Zehoorr. He is a half brother to stakes winner Believe in Charlie and hails from the family of grade 1 winner Nany's Sweep and graded stakes winner She's Indy Money. The dam of six winners from seven foals to race, Zehoorr also has a yearling colt by Tiznow and was bred to Hard Spun for 2022.
Donegal Racing purchased Shamrocket for $130,000 from the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Summerfield consignment. The horse has earnings of $465,230 and a 5-6-7 record in 22 starts.
Video: Sunshine Classic S. (BT)
Gatsby Great in Sprint
Arindel's homebred Gatsby followed a half-length defeat to grade 1 winner Drain the Clock in a Dec. 10 allowance optional claimer to notch his first stakes victory in the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint.
Gatsby, piloted by Luis Saez, broke on top but was quickly outfooted for the early lead by the Brian Lynch-trained Cool Quest, who shot up the inside fence to lead the seven-horse field with a snappy :21.75 opening quarter. Past a half-mile in :44.23, Gatsby rolled up to engage Cool Quest with a quarter-mile to run and dueled that rival down the stretch. In the final sixteenth, Gatsby surged clear for a 1 1/4-length tally in 1:09.11 for the six furlongs.
Cool Quest and Pudding completed the trifecta.
After Gatsby's runner-up finish to Drain the Clock, trainer Carlos David was confident Gatsby would come forward with a top effort Saturday.
"That was kind of a preparation for this race," said David. "Having Drain the Clock in that race was really tough. When he ran a fast race like that, we knew he’d be competitive in this race.”
Gatsby, a 4-year-old gelding by Brethren , is a full brother to Octane, who landed the FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality Stakes and FTBOA Florida Sire Affirmed Stakes in 2021 at Gulfstream. He is out of the winning Aldebaran mare Star Recruit, a half sister to graded stakes winner Z Humor. Star Recruit has an unraced 2-year-old full sister to Gatsby and Octane named Jellybean.
Gatsby has earned $286,420 and holds a 4-5-2 record in 19 starts.