Brian’s Derby Preps: The Sunland Derby

Sunland Park: The Grade III, $800,000 Sunland Derby at 1 1/8 miles

#1 Castaway: The first of two from Baffert won the slower division of Oaklawn Park’s GIII Southwest in his last and figures to be a major pace player from this cozy rail draw. Son of Derby winner Street Sense really came to hand this winter when stretched to two turns, and it’s obvious he’s got talent as he went from a Santa Anita maiden right into the winner’s circle in the Southwest. Figures to be sent to the lead and will try to wire this crew, but there are others entered with speed, so not quite sure he’ll be a fresh horse in the final furlong; playing against on top today.

#2 Ender Knievel: Pletcher charge enters off a Gulfstream Park maiden win and will try two turns and winners, not to mention stakes foes, for the first time, so he’s definitely got his work cut out for him. Tons of speed in this corner, so expecting him to be right on or just off the lead, which means we could have a pace battle brewing with Castaway drawn to his inside, and that could spell doom for the both of them; thinking this is too tall a task at this point.

#3 Stirred Up: Baffert’s second runner has progressed nicely since switching to two turns, and he enters off a resolute SA maiden win over a top prospect in Tiz Yankee, so there’s some upside potential here. His off-the-pace running style should work well in this speedy field, and you get the impression the more ground he gets the better, which is something that can’t be said for all of his rivals. Lightly raced and in expert hands and may just be set to deliver a top performance and launch himself squarely into the Derby picture; gets the call to mow them down in the lane.

#4 Isn’t He Clever: The top local hope looked good winning Sunland’s prep in the Borderland Derby from close range and should sit a nice trip today, though the waters obviously get much, much deeper. Son of Derby winner Smarty Jones is perfect in two starts over the track, which gives him a big edge on his rivals, and trainer Dominguez is one of the top local outfits, so he’s got a lot going for him, not to mention a square mutuel price is in the offing. His tactical speed should have him sitting just off the lead and get him first run on the closers, so if you believe in homefield advantage, this is your guy; not an impossible task.
#5 No Spin: Son of Johannesburg enters off a well beaten eighth in the Southwest behind Castaway, and up to this point he’s blinked when facing stakes foes, so he seems out of his element against a group like this. Trainer Ice knows what to do with a nice 3yo, but this simply looks like a tough spot for a runner that has never won a race on conventional dirt; longshot.

#6 Daddy Nose Best: Asmussen colt enters off a win in the GIII El Camino Real over the Tapeta at Golden Gate and a few of those runners behind him were up the track in Saturday’s GII Spiral at Turfway Park, so the quality of that race comes into question. Has been on a turf/synthetic diet since failing to win his first two career starts on conventional dirt, so this is a mighty tough spot to jump back into the fray. At least you know he’s in good form and is going the right way, but we’ve yet to see enough on the real stuff to think he can win a race like this; others rank higher.

#7 Tequila Factor: Recent Turf Paradise turf stakes winner was soundly beaten by Isn’t He Clever in his two local starts and has done his best running on the grass up to this point, so he looks up against it in here. Owns a nice stalking style and should sit a good trip, but it’s doubtful he’ll be a major factor when the real running begins; not seeing it.

#8 Justanoldsong: Well-bred son of Unbridled’s Song broke his maiden at first asking over the local strip and then was sixth, some 14 ½ lengths behind Isn’t He Clever in the Borderland, so that’s not going to scare anyone today. Got the worst of the draw as well so he will likely get a wide trip, which is another strike against a colt who seems up against it; needs softer to threaten.


#3 Stirred Up
#1 Castaway
#4 Isn’t He Clever

4 thoughts on “Brian’s Derby Preps: The Sunland Derby

  1. After reading today’s NYTimes piece I was almost ashamed I had handicapped this race. Amazing how even the best of trainers and jockeys have come here chasing this essentially casino earnings fueled “win and you’re in” the KY Derby race. Makes it just that more difficult to separate out the cream of the stock from the cheap quality. Again after reading the article I can’t take any horse which has won at Zia Park seriously, plus with the highly erratic running speed pattern I am looking at the No. 4 as the cheap speed in the field. Brian’s scenario may definitely play out, but I will have Castaway a little off the pace and hope he comes home safe and sound. Plus after yesterday’s win, I don’t think Johnny is making the trip if the connections weren’t confident and this one shows true speed class. Difficult to leave Baffert Lapenta off the board, but the 6’s 2yo experience and miler foundation and only second start off this year gives him the edge, So it’s a 1-2-6 tribox for me. Good luck with this Derby “prep”.

  2. Bleh…. good call on the speed dual, too bad 1 & 2 ran themselves into the ground surprised 1 wasn’t stronger, happy 6 went passed the 4.

  3. Teresa-
    You and other BB readers may remember a former racer named Arrrrr (and Tom Durkin’s talk like a pirate call)..He’s been retrained as a hunter/jumper and won his first event this weekend! A little happy news for today 🙂

  4. KOW, you make a GREAT point on the earnings issue in relation to these inflated slot purses. It makes the GIII Sunland Derby MORE important than the Santa Anita Derby. How ridiculous is that??? I’ve been saying for years that the simple solution is to have a graded stakes scale to qualify the Derby, not an earnings chart. You would get points, not earnings. A GI would be on a higher scale than a GII, which would be higher than a GIII. It seems like an easy solution and it would ensure that the best races get the best horses…but I guess I must be missing something, because every year nothing changes.

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