OPELOUSAS — The heavy wagering placed Sunbean in the Evangeline Downs spotlight Saturday night and after the 4-year-old gelding expertly threaded his way through a limited field, it was easy to see why.
As expected, Sunbean, a Louisiana-bred horse now with nine wins in 15 starts, won the annual $100,000 Legends Classic feature race, the 11th of 12 races on Saturday’s card, without much challenge, covering the 11?16-mile distance in a minute and 44 seconds.
The feature race was one of eight stakes races, six of which had purses that reached $100,000.
All Legends Night races were restricted to Louisiana-bred horses.
Track officials said Sunbean, owned by Evelyn Benoit and trained by Ron Faucheux, attracted an eager crowd at the betting windows in the race for 3-year-olds and upward in age.
Sunbean’s presence raised the race’s win-place-show betting pool to $271,441, and a winning Exacta ticket was worth $9.60. Sunbean claimed a $60,000 winner’s share of the total purse.
Bolting from the gate along the rail, jockey Richard Eramia watched Coneyo Fontova, with Colby Hernandez aboard, break in front toward the middle and set the early pace.
When it was time to move forward, Eramia urged Sunbean to move faster off the inside as the horses headed for the second turn.
From that point, Eramia put Sunbean on cruise control, as the other horses struggled to maintain pace.
The Legends Classic feature was Eramia’s sixth race since November aboard Sunbean, an experience that he said has been enjoyable.
“This horse (Sunbean) is very special. It was hard to race him (Saturday night) in short field like it was (five horses), but I had the best horse.
“I wanted to keep (Sunbean) clean of the others. He is a great horse.
“I have only lost one race with him since I started riding him,” Eramia said.
Faucheux was there’s something unique about Sunbean, whose first victory at Evangeline Downs came July 6 in the Louisiana Legends Mile Colts and Geldings Stakes.
Eramia started riding Sunbean late in the year, winning the Gold Cup Stakes on Nov. 2.
“He’s just a good horse to be around. With him it’s always a good day at the barn. As far as Louisiana-bred, (Sunbean) is as good as it gets,” Faucheux said.
Faucheux said he’s unsure of what is next for Sunbean.
“The good thing, is we are fortunate to be in this position,” Faucheux said.
One of the highlights of the card came in the ninth race, the 51/2-furlongs Legends Sprint, when winner Heitai led the entire way.
Heitai, a quick 4-year-old gelding, won a fifth time in six starts, clipping a quarter mile in 21.13 seconds and then reaching the half mile pole in 43.87.
At the finish line, Heitai with jockey Diego Saenz in the saddle, came across in 1:03.38.
Owner Frank Rowell said Heitai, who has won three of four races at Evangeline Downs, “is simply a good horse with a good trainer.”
Assistant trainer Eduardo Ramirez said Heitai moved so swiftly that he expected the horse to break the track record.
Tensas Harbor, a 4-year-old filly, moved from last place to first as the field headed down the stretch in the Legends Distaff feature of 1 1/16 sixteenth miles.
Jockey Colby Hernandez was riding Tensas Harbor for only the second time after veteran Mark Guidry rode Tensas Harbor for most of the horse’s other 17 races.
“I just let her fall away, and then I rode (Tensas Harbor) like Mr. Guidry, coming off the pace,” Hernandez said after the race.
Skipberry Wine, a 9-2 morning-line favorite in the Legends Turf feature, didn’t start well for jockey Gerard Melancon, riding the 5-year-old gelding for the first time.
Melancon said things changed as the race progressed and he moved Skipberry Wine to the outside.
Trainer Sam Breaux said Skipberry Wine runs more proficiently on turf.
“It was the first time (Skipberry Wine faced any Louisiana breds on grass and he showed up,” Breaux said.