Sunbean wins second straight Louisiana Champions Day Classic, pushes earnings past $1 million _lowres

Photo by LYNN ROBERTS/Hodges Photography -- Sunbean, with Corey Lanerie aboard, pulls ahead in the deep stretch to capture the 24th running of the $150,000 Louisiana Chammpions Day Classic at the Fair Grounds on Saturday.

Sunbean is Louisiana’s newest millionaire.

Evelyn Benoit’s 4-year-old gelding came from behind in his closing stride to claim his second straight Louisiana Champions Day Classic at the Fair Grounds on Saturday, pushing his earnings past $1 million.

Benoit adds her second million-dollar horse to Brittlyn Stable’s resume — along with former back-to-back-to-back Classic winner Star Guitar — to make Sunbean the sixth Louisiana-bred horse to ever reach $1 million in earnings. Star Guitar leads all Louisiana-bred money earners with over $1.7 million in winnings.

“They say you’ve got it made, but you don’t have it made,” said Benoit, who has owned the winning horse in the Classic five of the past six years. “It’s so difficult to win a race. People just see the good side of it. It’s a lot of hard work and great people who work here.”

Despite acting up in the gate to begin the race, Sunbean made a furious comeback down the stretch to beat stablemate Watch My Smoke — who was later disqualified — by a nose. Saturday’s win marked Sunbean’s third stakes victory in six weeks and 13th career victory in 20 starts, adding another reason for why many regard him as the best Louisiana-bred in training.

“He got left in the gate, but he was still relaxed,” said Sunbean’s jockey, Corey Lanerie. “I had to tell him when to go, and he listened to me.”

Lanerie, who was jockeying in place of an injured Richard Eramia (dislocated shoulder), said he used a little strategy to find his way to the front of the pack after a slow start, but ultimately he couldn’t have done it without a horse of Sunbean’s caliber.

“I just did what I do every time. I just rode the race,” Lanerie said. “I couldn’t go to the front, but I knew he would have plenty at the finish so I rode him like he’s a come-from-behind horse.

“There’s a lot of strategy in knowing where the finish line is, but it all boils down to being on the best horse.”

With Watch My Smoke’s disqualification, One King’s Man was moved up to second place and Louisiana Fly Boy was moved up to third place.

Francisco Torres, who jockeyed One King’s Man, said he felt Watch My Smoke “bothered” him at the 16th pole, and that was part of the reason he made the claim.

“I knew it was a legitimate claim,” Torres said. “Otherwise, my horse ran a big race. I think that cost us the chance to win. If we came back again against him, we’ll win the race.”

Joe Sharp, who trains One King’s Man and came into Saturday’s Classic in a three-way tie for second in the trainer standings, said he was proud of the 4-year-old gelding and that he knew it would be tough to beat a horse like Sunbean.

“He ran well. I think they made the right call moving him up to second,” said Sharp, who has won with five of his 11 local starters. “Sunbean deserved it, he ran hard. He’s a hard horse to meet, even with a bad start. We’re very happy with second place.”

Sunbean completed the 11?8-mile course in 1 minute, 51.81 seconds — 2 seconds faster than his time last year — and paid $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10.