POSTED: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 4:22pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 11:22pm
El Paso, TX — The 12th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby with a field of nine promises to be the best and deepest in the history of the race. With 85 qualifying points to the 2014 Kentucky Derby on the line, the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) has attracted two of the top stables in the sport and a burgeoning local sensation.
Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher are sending two pairs of the three-year-olds in hopes of winning the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) and gaining 50 points towards entry to the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert, a 2-time winner of the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) including last year’s triumph with Govenor Charlie, is sending out both Midnight Hawk and Chitu. Midnight Hawk is a battled tested winner of the Sham Stakes (Gr III) at Santa Anita and boasts career earnings of $171,000. Co-owned by last year winning owner Mike Pegram, Midnight Hawk will be the 5-2 morning line favorite and gets clutch money rider and Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons. His sire Midnight Lute also threw the speedy Govenor Charlie. Chitu completes the Baffert one-two punch and carries his own impressive credentials. The fast son of Henny Hughes ran a strong second to Candy Boy in the Robert Lewis (Gr. II) Stakes at Santa Anita last month. He has won 2 times from 3 starts. 2013 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winning rider Martin Garcia gets the call.
2013 Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher returns home to saddle two runners in the Sunland Derby (Gr. III). They are two imposing Gulfstream Park products in Commissioner and Global Strike. Owned by WinStar Farm, Commissioner produced a rousing allowance win at Gulfstream Park last January and split the field in the Fountain of Youth (Gr. III). John Velazquez will ride the 7-2 second favorite. Global Strike races for the powerful Stonestreet Stables and showed great determination breaking his maiden despite stumbling at the start. The son of Smart Strike will be ridden by the nation’s leading rider Javier Castellano. Todd’s father Jake Pletcher was a leading trainer at Sunland Park back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The local sensation in the trainer category is the meteoric Justin Evans. The 32-year-old conditioner is in the midst of the most dominating year in Sunland Park history. Evans is on course to win over 100 races this meet. He is ranked nationally in the top five trainers for races won. His Sunland Derby (Gr. III) horse is Rebranded. Privately purchased for six figures by Tony Pennington, Rebranded shipped in from the East Coast and broke his maiden in the $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity and was a courageous second in the $120,000 Mine That Bird Stakes. The large son of Tiznow relishes the home course advantage.
Southern California training wiz Peter Miller sends in Garen for the Sunland prize. Although lightly raced, Garen carries massive potential. The son of Street Cry broke his maiden at Santa Anita in wire to wire fashion and his a half-brother to former Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Invasor.
Cody Autrey’s Tanzanite Cat looms large with an Oaklawn Park background having won the Smarty Jones Stakes. Subsequently, he battled on a contentious pace in the Southwest Stakes (Gr. III) before finishing fifth to the highly regarded Kentucky Derby hopeful Tapiture.
Kellyn Gorder’s Bourbonize helps further cement this year’s Sunland Derby (Gr. III) as the deepest and best wagering race in its 11-year history. The 2-time winner is a legitimate threat and respected at 6-1 odds in the morning line.
Sunland Derby (Gr. III) lineup:
1. Bourbonize (Ramon Vasquez 122) 6-1.
2. Garen (Victor Espinoza 122) 10-1.
3. Commissioner (John Velazquez 122) 7-2.
4. Global Strike (Javier Castellano 122) 8-1.
5. Tanzanite Cat (Norberto Arroyo 122) 6-1.
6. Lawly’s Goal (Irwin Rosendo 122) 20-1.
7. Midnight Hawk (Mike Smith 122) 5-2.
8. Rebranded (Ry Eikleberry 122) 12-1.
9. Chitu (Martin Garcia 122) 4-1
Advance wagering on the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) will be available on Saturday. An entertaining “meet and greet” with the cast and crew of the Mine That Bird film “50-1” happens on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. in the Signature Showroom.
Join Daily Racing Form correspondent and racing authority Jay Privman on Sunday at 11 a.m. in the Signature Showroom for an informative handicapping seminar.
The powerful $1.4 million Sunland Derby (Gr. III) day card also showcases the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, $75,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes, $85,000 La Coneja Stakes, $75,000 Harry Henson Handicap, $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks and $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby. Post on Sunday is 12:55 p.m. mountain daylight time