SunshineHALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Kathleen O’Connell is a self-described “barn rat” who spends countless hours around her horses. That dedication manifested itself Saturday when Early Entry returned from a layoff of nearly a year in winning the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park.

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“It’s been a challenge,” O’Connell said after Early Entry got the best of favored Delta Bluesman following a sustained duel in the six-furlong race. “But he’s a good horse, and that makes it a lot easier.”

Confidently ridden by Paco Lopez, Early Entry stalked Delta Bluesman from the outset, finally pushing past to prevail by a half-length in 1:09.50 over a fast surface. The winner, a 6-year-old horse by Keyed Entry, returned $10.20 as third choice in a field of seven older Florida-breds.

Owned by Tommy Roberts Racing Stables, Early Entry was outstanding here last winter when earning back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in winning overnight races. But O’Connell was forced to stop on him when “he came up with a few little problems. The owner was good about letting me give him the time he needed. I would’ve preferred an easier comeback spot than this, but he showed he was up to the task today.”

“He’s a very nice horse,” said Lopez, who is now 4 for 4 aboard him. “I love that horse.”

Early Entry, currently based with the O’Connell string in Tampa, now has won nine of 23 career starts. O’Connell said she has no particular next race in mind other than to keep the horse sprinting. “Seven furlongs is probably his best distance,” she said.

Delta Bluesman, the 8-5 choice under Emisael Jaramillo, gave way grudgingly in the final yards while still able to hold second by a neck over Awesome Banner, the 9-5 second choice. Rounding out the order were Yourdreamsormine, Extravagant Kid, Schivarelli, and Sing Praises.

The $2 exacta (5-2) paid $37, the $1 trifecta (5-2-7) returned $49.90, and the 10-cent superfecta (5-2-7-1) was worth $14.93.