FLORIDA SUNSHINE MILLIONS TURF STAKES | PURSE: $150,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 1/8 MILES (TURF)
Teaks North secured his first victory since 2011 when the two-time Grade 1 winner opened a clear lead in the stretch on his way to a front-running 2 1/2-length victory in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf Stakes Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park.
In the Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Stakes, Regalo Mia secured her first career stakes win by holding off a pair of mares with a combined 16 career wins in runner-up Hooh Why and third-place finisher and 4-5 favorite Romacaca.
With John Velazquez in the irons, 8-1 shot Teaks North opened a clear lead moving into the first turn and held that advantage at each call. After posting fractions of :25.68, :52.09, and 1:16.76 over yielding ground, Teaks North cruised to a three-length advantage mid-stretch and had plenty left to hold off the late charge of 1-2 favorite Doubles Partner.
Last year Teaks North finished off the board in three starts, including a 10th-place finish in the El Prado Stakes Dec. 22 at Gulfstream Park. That effort marked his first career start for owner John Roberts' Resolute Group Stables and trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.
With Dutrow's status uncertain at the time of entries because the classic-winning trainer would begin a 10-year suspension on Jan. 17, Teaks North was entered under the name of Dutrow assistant Michelle Nevin. The entry marked the first start for Nevin as listed trainer.
"I'm overwhelmed. It's been a tough week," Nevin said. "I'm very happy for this horse. It's been a long road back [layoff]. When they get older they usually need a race to shake the cobwebs off and he did [10th in El Prado on Dec. 22]."
A 6-year-old son of Northern Afleet, Teaks North was purchased privately by Resolute Group. Before that sale, he was trained by Justin Sallusto when he won the 2011 Gulfstream Turf Handicap and the United Nations at Monmouth Park that summer.
Teaks North, who completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.89 and paid $19.80 to win, $6.20 to place, and $4.60 to show. Doubles Partner returned $2.40, $2.20 and Shkspeare Shaliyah returned $8.20 to show. The exacta was worth $43.80.
Bred by Brylynn Farm, Teaks North is a full brother to stakes-winning filly Teak Totem, who herself has produced two stakes winners including Grade 2 winner Adios Charlie ; and half brother to grade II winner Wooden Phone and stakes winner Chief Okie Dokie.
Three races earlier, Regalo Mia, trained by Michelle Nihei for owner Steven Ciccarone, defeated a game Hooh Why by three-quarters of a length. The daughter of Sligo Bay had been knocking on the door after placings in five open stakes, including three graded races, on the turf last year.
Facing five other Florida-bred fillies and mares in her 4-year-old season debut, 5-2 shot Regalo Mia swung four wide in the final turn as she rallied from fifth place at the quarter pole to post a hard-fought victory. Guided by the meet's current leading rider by wins, Javier Castellano, Regalo Mia completed 1 1/8 miles on yielding turf in 1:52.39.
"I handicapped the race and I didn't see much speed and was afraid Hooh Why and Romacaca would control the race," Castellano said. "I expected to be closer to the pace, but my horse was off the bridle in the beginning while getting used to the soft ground, but she loved the surface. Turning for home when I asked for more she responded very well, it was a great performance from her. This was her first time on the soft ground and she handled it wonderfully."
Confident in the filly's ability, Nihei plans to stretch out Regalo Mia.
"There was never any question that we had a good filly since she came to us as a 2-year-old. Her only bad race in the Mrs. Revere at Churchill it just wasn't her day. It was at night in the freezing cold, raining and the ground was slippery on top," Nihei said. "Other than that she has run her race every time. We do have to allow for her [small] size in her training, but she more than makes up for it. I've always thought she would like a distance and a three-turn race is the obvious next step."
Bred by Juvenal Diaz, Regalo Mia is out of the Red Bullet mare Shake It Up, who is a half sister to stakes winner Hot Talent.