Brian’s Derby Preps: The Sunland Derby

Sunland Park: The Grade III, $800,000 Sunland Derby at 1 1/8 miles, by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now

#1 Bourbonize: Price player didn’t fire when last seen in Oaklawn Park’s GIII Southwest when he closed mildly to be a well-beaten sixth in his graded stakes debut, and he’ll no doubt have to improve to factor today. Lightly raced runner is by Tiz Wonderful, so he’s bred for this trip, and Gorder is a name you’re going to be hearing a lot in the coming years, so there are a few positives in this corner. His post and running style also work well today, as we’ll get into the pace shortly, which is expected to be hot, so with a closing style and pedigree that is suited to two turns, the thinking here is that he puts his best foot forward; expecting a big run.

#2 Garen: Santa Anita MSW winner gets thrown to the wolves in a hurry after he stretched out to two turns for the first time and broke his maiden gate-to-wire last month for Miller. Son of Street Cry certainly improved a great deal when last seen, and there’s a chance he could be your inside speed today, but we’ll see in a bit there’s some true gas to his outside, so his trip all of a sudden becomes dicey. Longshot might have some talent but has the typical “too much, too soon” look to him; not seeing it.

#3 Commissioner: WinStar homebred was one of the hot horses this winter for Pletcher after beating Top Billing in an optional claimer at this distance at Gulfstream Park in his 3-year-old debut in January, but he simply came unglued when he bombed and finished sixth in the GII Fountain of Youth last month. And here comes the tricky part, as this once highly touted son of A.P. Indy now all of a sudden appears in New Mexico and adds blinkers off a complete no-show, which really wasn’t the plan when they drew the play up in the huddle sometime in late January. Point being, you’re going to have to take a false price on a horse who might be going the wrong way in a hurry while traveling down a road that wasn’t part of the plan just a few months ago; taking a strong stand against.

#4 Global Strike: The second from Pletcher was a visually impressive MSW winner at GP going this trip in his last start in February, when he battled on the lead before pulling away late in a sharp effort, though it didn’t break any stopwatches. It’s also worth noting that track has been a paved highway going long this winter (when isn’t it, though?), so take that run with a grain of salt. On the plus side, this son of Smart Strike does have a few 9F runs showing and with just three lifetime starts he has plenty of upside, but on the face of it, he’s a pace factor and nothing more; pop and stop coming.

#5 Tanzanite Cat: The upset winner of Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones two-back folded badly when fifth in the Southwest and is another who wants to mix it up early, which means the engine could be a mighty crowded car today. Son of Graeme Hall forges on for Autrey, which is a good sign off such a poor run, but the gut says that that win at OP was more the exception than the rule. And even though there are no world beaters here, they aren’t giving away $800k either, which means he’s probably in for another long day at the office; midpack finish seems his ceiling.

#6 Lawly’s Goal: The longest shot in the race enters off a closing second in the Turf Paradise Derby last month and will likely try to sit back and make a run into the expected hot pace today. Eikleberry charge is by Lucky Pulpit, so this trip figures to be within his scope, but this Arizona-bred is about a furlong behind these on figures, not to mention on talent; needs far softer to make a dent.

#7 Midnight Hawk: Baffert runner will look to restore a reputation that has taken a hit of late, after he ran third in Santa Anita’s GII Robert Lewis two back and a distant second in their GII San Felipe just 15 days ago. Well-bred son of Midnight Lute seemingly gets all the best of it here, though, as he a) doesn’t have to meet Candy Boy or California Chrome, who vanquished him the last two times, and b) has the tactical running style to sit a dream trip just off the contested pace. The short turnaround is a bit of a question mark, but it’s a bit of a positive as well, as Baffert certainly wouldn’t ship if he didn’t think his colt could handle the heavy workload. On paper the race goes through him, and when you look at race flow, it’s hard not to think he’ll be a real handful; lots to like from the pick.

#8 Rebranded: The lone local runner was just second in the Mine That Bird Derby, the local prep, but a repeat of that run would have him battling with ‘Lawly’s for the scraps, so he’ll have to really hope the invaders don’t like the track and that he runs a lifetime best. At least you get an Evans barn that is hitting at 24% on the year, but this son of Tiznow is going to need a lot more than that to play with these; easy toss.

#9 Chitu: Baffert’s second runner drew the far outside but has the sprint speed to at the very least mix it up early from this wide draw, so you have to think he’s going and/or getting involved early and often. Son of Henny Hughes just missed when a game second in the Lewis, in what was his first two-turn start, so he’s likely coming up to a big run with that tightener behind him, though you’re allowed to wonder if 9Fs is in his scope, as dad was strictly a one-turn sprinter. The rub comes from all the speed to his inside, which means he’s either going to have to run hard and fast to clear, or run the risk of being hung out wide going into the first turn and on the backstretch. So while there’s a world of talent here, none of those scenarios are exactly what you’re looking for when you are eyeing about 7-2 at the window; using underneath, if at all.

Selections:

#7 Midnight Hawk

#1 Bourbonize

#9 Chitu

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