Sunland Park: The GIII $800,000 Sunland Park Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 50-20-10-5)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Mucho Gusto (8-5): Deserving heavy favorite will take all the beating for Baffert off a dominant win in the sloppy GIII Robert Lewis in early February at Santa Anita, while showing a newfound rating gear in the process. Son of Mucho Macho Man can seemingly be placed anywhere and drew perfectly here, and he figures to be sitting just off what looks like an honest, but hardly overheated, pace. Shipping away from home is always a concern, but this guy is all class and doesn’t appear to have to take his track with his, as he’s won at all three of the Southern California tracks and seemingly hasn’t missed a beat lately, even with all the issues going on at SA, so the rest of these look to be in for a long day at the office; imposing.
#2 Anothertwistafate (3-1): The wildcard appears to have plenty of talent, as he ran off by 7 in winning the El Camino Real Derby over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields last month but returns to the dirt, where his only start, albeit in a sprint, wasn’t pretty in his career debut at SA. Sure, he’s a ton better now than he was then, and it was his first time meeting the starter, so you can easily excuse the run, but the fact that he’s 3-for-3—by a combined 16 lengths—since switching to the fake stuff says that that dirt run might be closer to reality than not. Wright charge has been on the lead in all three wins in Northern California, but they’ll be going a lot faster here, so how he adapts and where he gets placed will be key today. This is a stiff test; tread lightly if landing here.
#3 Hustle Up (5-1): Speedster will be in front and figures to employ the same tactics he used to wire the local prep, the Mine That Bird Derby last month, when defeating five entered back today. New Mexico-bred son of Abstraction is 8-for-10, so he wants to beat you, and Fincher hits at 24% on the year, but the big boys are in town today, which makes his task all the more difficult, especially with speed on both sides of him; know him early, not sure about late.
#4 Wicked Indeed (6-1): Lightly-raced runner for Asmussen was closing late when second to Hustle Up last time, and you get the impression that he’s the one you want out of the local prep, as the race flow and a better draw today both figure to work to his advantage. Homebred son of Tapit is bred to be a runner and note that he wasn’t too far off of 3-year-old (former?) heavyweight War of Will in Fair Grounds’ GIII Lecomte two-back, so he’s also got some class to him, too. Of course, beating the heavy chalk is another thing altogether, but, his running style, the additional half-furlong he gets, and a modest group of remaining rivals, all make him a major player; looms the main danger.
#5 Cutting Humor (8-1): Pletcher invader didn’t fire when seventh as the favorite in Oaklawn Park’s GIII Southwest last month, in a race that was won by a huge longshot, so you’re allowed to question if he’s got the talent to compete in a spot like this. Son of First Samurai was a good second to the tremendously talented Bourbon Way in a Gulfstream Park optional-claimer two back, so that does bode well, and if you’re a fan, then you could say that just maybe he didn’t like the racing strip in Hot Springs. The price will be right here, too, and he should trip out nicely just off the speed, so fans of this barn will get their guy at a rare playable number; exotics appeal.
#6 Walker Stalker (15-1): Tactical runner was third to Hustle Up last time after tracking the pace and then tiring late, though that was his first start against winners, so it’s not like he ran poorly in the least. Son of Stroll outran his odds (45-1) for Gonzalez that day, too, and that finish was a huge step up from his other two starts, so if he improves again, he’s not impossible for a share; could spice up the bottom of your exotics.
#7 Pasamonte Man (20-1): Deep closer and the only maiden in the field rallied mildly to be fourth in the Mine That Bird Derby for Marr and will need an epic pace meltdown to have a say here. However, much like ‘Stalker next door, there is a lot of upside here, and this son of Strong Mandate might have another move forward, too, though he better, because that last run won’t get him a piece today; midpack finish seems his ceiling.
#8 Collusionist (25-1): Huge longshot was 13 3/4 lengths behind Hustle Up last time in his two-turn debut Martinez, and this Colorado-bred son of Ez Effort looks way outclassed in this spot; get home safely.
#9 Diamond Blitz (15-1): SA speedster popped and then stopped when fourth in a tough AOC out west last time, as winner Roadster is one of Baffert’s better 3yos. The Desormeaux brothers have pulled off some prep surprises in recent years, and this son of sprinter Munnings should be part of the proceedings early, though where he is late is a big guess; can’t see him lasting to the wire.
#10 Eye Cloud (30-1): Son of Point of Entry was seventh in the Mine That Bird Derby, so, much like Collusionist, this Norris-trained colt just doesn’t merit consideration against these; easy toss.
#1 Mucho Gusto
#4 Wicked Indeed
#5 Cutting Humor