Sunland Park: The Grade III, $800,000 Sunland Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 50-20-10-5)
[Image: 2014 Sunland Derby winner Chitu and jockey Joel Rosario at Santa Anita. Benoit photo]
With a boatload of money and 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points up for grabs, the Sunland Derby has become en vogue in recent years, especially after Mine That Bird parlayed a fourth-place finish to Derby glory in 2009. And while this year’s renewal might not be brimming with quantity, it does have quality in the form of heavy favorite #1 FIRING LINE (8-5), who looks poised to get a long overdue graded stakes win after being headed out in his last two by winter book Derby hotshot Dortmund. The Callaghan-trained son of Line of David meets no such heavyweights today and simply looks like a better horse than his modest rivals, though a bounce off that heartbreaking loss in the GIII Lewis last time at Santa Anita could be a potential stumbling block; figures too tough, regardless.
You need to be in a forgiving mood if you come back to #6 TIZNOW R J (5-1), who was simply awful with no real excuse when seventh in Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star last time for Asmussen. The good news is that he plugs along for one more, and this son of Tiznow will offer some value underneath as well, so maybe he can rebound and run back to that third in FG’s GIII Lecomte in January; far too early to give up on.
There’s little doubt that #4 WHY TWO (8-1) gets the acid test for Machowsky, as he was beating overmatched rivals at odds-in in the Turf Paradise Derby last time, but he’s versatile, has plenty of upside and will offer a price. Of course, he’ll need to improve open lengths to beat the top pick, but dad Bob and John won the GI Wood Memorial at this distance a few years back, so grabbing some scraps underneath isn’t out of the question; logical exotics contender.
While the top three seem a cut above, #7 PAIN AND MISERY (6-1) goes back to the Dominguez barn after a well-beaten seventh to Dortmund in the GII San Felipe at SA last time, and when you’re hitting at 31% locally, you know you’re doing something right. Gelded son of Bob and John should sit a nice trip just off the lead and try to kick in off the far turn, but he’s going to have to show a lot more to give the top few a scare in the lane; minor award seems his ceiling.