The Morning Line: Sunland Derby

Southwest Racing at it's Best

Located on the south east border of New Mexico with El Paso, TX just east, we take you to Sunland Park, NM on Sunday.  Sunland Park Racetrack opened in 1959 and is known for a combination of thoroughbred and quarter horse racing.  It is also known to be a breeding ground for successful jockey’s.  The late legend Bill Shoemaker who was born in West Texas rode Sunland in his early days along with hall of famer Jerry Bailey, Pat Valenzuela, and Cash Asmussen, brother to trainer Steve. 

Introduced to the Derby Trail in 2003, the Sunland Derby wasn’t getting too much derby prep attention until after 2009 when almost everyone including myself went back to their KYD programs to figure out where Mine That Bird came from.  Although he only finished 4th in the ’09 Sunland, his success as a two year old, his trainer’s confidence, and jockey Calvin Borel steered the colt to become the 1st and only horse to ever to come out of Sunland before making their way into the winner circle at the Kentucky Derby.  What has happened once, can happen again and this years field has the potential to produce another derby threat. 

The early favorite, Astrology, will finally be making his  3yr old debut.  While it has been a long wait, trainer Steve Asmussen has had him working hard, completing 8 works over the last 8 weeks.  All works were at Santa Anita with his most recent at 4F in 49.4 on 3/23.  What’s most interesting to me along with many others, is that Steve isn’t the only big name trainer making the trip on Sunday.  Bob Baffert, Jeff Bonde, and  William Fires are there as well to see if their quite contenders can sneak into the 137th Kentucky Derby field with a win.   

$800,000 GIII Sunland Derby (Race 12, 5:45 p.m.), 3 Yr-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles  PP.Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds

  1. Ruler On Ice (KY) J Valdivia, Jr K Breen 8/1
  2. R Skydiver (CA) A Medellin H Dominguez 12/1
  3. Fusa Code (KY) J Shepherd S Asmussen 8/1
  4. It’s My Party (KY) J Bourdieu C Hartman 12/1
  5. Behold de Buy (KY) K Tohill J Salisbury 12/1
  6. Supreme Ruler (KY) J Court W H Fires 20/1
  7. Sinai (KY)   M Garcia B Baffert 6/1
  8. Nacho Saint (KY) J Bravo K Breen 7/2
  9. Twice the Appeal (KY) C. Santiag Bonde 15/1
  10. Beer Meister (KY) W Corbett M Ortiz Sr. 15/1
  11. Astrology (KY) J Leparoux S. Asmussen 5/2   

Though he’s definitely a bit behind schedule Astrology, is still well regarded. Highlighting his resume was the successful conclusion to his 2 yr old campaign.  In his last race he returned after winning the Grade III Iroquois Stakes and finished 2nd to Santiva in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov 27th.  As for Sunday, even though I will reconsider him and his success on Churchill dirt come derby day, I think the 4 month lay off and outside post will prove to be too much.  Asmussen will also be returning Borderland Derby winner Fusa Code, who cleared the field and held to win at Sunland on 2/26.  Son of Fusaichi Pegasus, he hopes to show his blood lines like Premier Pegasus just did. 

The second and third choice horses are both returning for the first time after missing the board in their previous graded stakes.  I don’t see either of these two winning but expect both to challenge.  Bob Baffert moves Sinai down from California after a disappointing 5th place finish in the Grade II San Vicente which was dominated by The Factor.  I think the jump from  7F to 1 1/8 will be tough for him because I didn’t see a late rally or stretch bid his last time out.  Moving from Aqueduct and the Grade III Gotham is Nacho Saint.  Ready for the distance I see him pressing towards the final turn but not having enough left to move past the leaders and claim the win. 

Let’s be honest……..this race is as wide open as the NCAA Tournament.  From the inside I will take a shot on allowance winner Ruler on Ice.  At what should be a nice price, I’m betting to see some VCU magic.  In case my upset bid is unraveled by the # 1 seed I will leave him out of my Trifecta.

1: Across the Board; Trifecta: 6-7-11                                                                                                Live longshot: Supreme Ruler (Shipping from Oak Lawn) stablemate to derby contender Archarcharch and also ridden by Jon Court. 

Good luck to all connections today in Kentucky and Louisiana and New Mexico tomorrow.  The Derby Trail is heating up and we look forward to a great two days of racing.

Written by: Little Brink


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