In just ten runnings, the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) has sparked some major events in the world of Thoroughbred horse racing and rates as a prized jewel for Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Sunland Park’s biggest race was the springboard to greatness for Mine That Bird who went on to score a monumental 50-1 upset win in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and place in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. A major motion picture entitled “50-1” has been filmed to chronicle the Mine That Bird underdog story. 2005 winner Thor’s Echo was a bright light for Sunland Park in 2006 when the Doug O’Neill trained speed merchant won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Eclipse Award that year for top sprinter.
In 2012, Sunland Derby (Gr. III) day sparked record handle and attendance figures. An all-sources handle of nearly $3.6 million wagered on the 13-race card, besting the former Sunland record by over a half million dollars. The handle was the most ever bet in one card in New Mexico racing history. Also, an all-time Sunland Park record crowd of 18,384 fans came out for the big day.
With 85 total qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby on the line, this year’s $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) appears to be a crucial part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.” The 2013 winner of the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) earns 50 qualifying points and a virtual berth in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Even the runner-up will receive an important 20 points, followed by 10 for third and 5 for fourth place. Interest in the Sunland classic has been keen from coast to coast.
Nationally renowed trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Jeff Bonde and Doug O’Neill are bringing in talent to run in the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) on Sunday, March 24.
Shakin It Up, a classy son of Midnight Lute, is the 5-2 morning line favorite for trainer Bob Baffert and owners Mike Pegram and Dennis Cardoza. The hard charging stretch runner defeated Treasury Bill in a thrilling San Vicente Stakes (Gr. 2) at Santa Anita on Feb. 17. Shakin It Up is battle tested and packs a terrific stretch kick. He should love the 9 furlong distance of the Sunland Derby (Gr. III). Pegram and Baffert joined forces to direct Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet and Breeders’ Cup champion Midnight Lute, so it could be all in the family for Shakin It Up. Baffert and Pegram won the 2006 WinStar Derby with Wanna Runner. Shakin It Up will have David Flores in the saddle. Santa Anita maiden winner Govenor Charlie (6-1) is another Baffert candidate for the Sunland Derby (Gr. III). His jockey is Martin Garcia.
WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Abraham races for the barn of Todd Pletcher. The 4-1 second choice has a series of common denominators to the 2010 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner Endorsement. Both horses are owned by the WinStar Farm and are by the extraordinary stallion Distorted Humor. Abraham is distance tested having won a maiden event at Gulfstream Park going 1 and 1/8 miles on Feb. 16. Loaded with potential, he could be deadly in the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) Pletcher is a multiple Eclipse Award winner trainer. His father, J.J. Pletcher was a leading trainer at Sunland Park in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Doug O’Neill, the 2012 Kentucky Derby winning trainer, ships in Mud Flats (6-1) for the Sunland Derby (Gr. III). O’Neill won the 2003 and 2005 WinStar Derbies with Excessivepleasure and Thor’s Echo, respectively. 2011 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winning trainer Jeff Bonde returns with Saint Prado (8-1).
Famed southwestern trainer Joel Marr has the local powerhouse in Dry Summer (5-1). The Mine That Bird Derby winner holds the home field advantage with two wins over the Sunland oval. Marr trained the fabled New Mexico-bred legend Peppers Pride to a perfect 19 win career.
Don’t forget to join Daily Racing Form authority Jay Privman for a free Sunland Derby (Gr. III) handicapping seminar in the Signature Showroom starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 24. Privman has been the national correspondent for the Daily Racing Form since 1998 and co-authors the popular Derby Watch top 20 list. He also does television work for the NBC Sports Network at all three Triple Crown races. The Sunland Park undercard includes such terrific races as the $200,000 Sunland Oaks, the $75,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes and the $75,000 Harry Henson Handicap. Post time on Sunday for the 12-race all-Thoroughbred race is 1 p.m. The $1.4 million card features 7 stakes races including the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks.