POSTED: Sunday, March 23, 2014 - 10:00pm
UPDATED: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 8:08am
El Paso, TX — Chitu generated a courageous winning performance and gave trainer Bob Baffert his third $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) crown on Sunday at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in front of an all-time record crowd of 18,642 fans.
Despite being headed by stable mate Midnight Hawk, Chitu found enough energy reserves to come back and re-take the lead and win the Kentucky Derby prep race by 2 and ¼ lengths under jockey Martin Garcia. Bet down to 9-5 favoritism, the former $300,000 OBS sales graduate was primed for a big effort in the one and one-eighth mile classic.
Assistant Trainer Jim Barnes said after the race, “From day one, everything went well. He shipped well. With two sprints and one route under his belt, this was the race he needed. He’s getting fitter and fitter.”
Winning owners Charles and Susan Chuy of the Tamma Corporation were ecstatic in the winner’s circle and gave all the credit to trainer Bob Baffert, jockey Martin Garcia and assistant Trainer Jim Barnes. The Chuys have been in the racing business for two years and have owned two stakes winners in 2013 Southwest Stakes winner Super Ninetynine and now Chitu. Mrs. Chuy said that Chitu’s name derives from one of the all-time greatest racehorses in China and the pronunciation is the same.
Chitu, runner-up in the Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, seemed to relish the Sunland Park oval. The Henny Hughes colt pressed the pace setter Garen early and still had plenty of fight left for Midnight Hawk down the lane. He drew off handsomely and was timed in 1:47.88. The clocking just missed the track and stakes record held by Govenor Charlie of 1:47.54 from the 2013 Sunland Derby (Gr. III). Baffert and Garcia combined forces to win last year’s Sunland Park Derby (Gr. III) with Govenor Charlie. Chitu earned $400,000 from his third career win from four starts and picked up 50 valuable qualifying points to the 2014 Kentucky Derby. He has now earned over a half million dollars.
Baffert’s second horse in the race Midnight Hawk looked like a winner passing the quarter mile marker when given his cue by jockey Mike Smith. The grey roan colt by Midnight Lute made a bold sweeping 3-wide move and took the lead heading into the stretch run. He battled bravely through the lane but could not conquer Chitu. The 2-1 second choice had to settle for second, finishing 4 and ¾ lengths in front of Commissioner. Midnight Hawk placed in his third straight graded stakes race. He earned a $176,000 paycheck for owners Hill ‘n’ Dale Holdings, Inc. (J.G. Sikura), Kitchen, Pegram et al. Additionally, Midnight Hawk picked up 20 more qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, pushing his total point tally to 52.
Todd Pletcher’s Commissioner raced with blinkers for the first time and finished third after bobbling at the starts. He failed to muster a potent stretch attack. The A.P. Indy colt earned $96,000 for the WinStar Farm, LLC. He picked up 10 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby. Riley Allison Futurity winner and Mine That Bird Stakes winner Rebranded finished a distant fourth for trainer Justin Evans. He picked up 5 points towards entry to the Kentucky Derby. Bourbonize, Global Strike, Garen, Tanzanite Cat and Lawly’s Goal rounded out the order of finish.
Under jockey Mike Smith, Awesome Baby cruised to an easy wire to wire win in the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks at one and one-sixteenth miles.
The overwhelming 2-5 favorite was never in any serious jeopardy and completely controlled the pace in the distaff feature. She faced some token pressure from both Lucky for You and Empress of Midway at the quarter pole, but the popular Awesome Again pulled clear once again. She completed an amazing streak for trainer Bob Baffert who has won the last four Sunland Park Oaks. Baffert has won this race 6 times in the last 8 runnings.
Awesome Baby was coming off big stakes wins at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez and the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel. The classy filly picked up a $120,000 payday for owner Kaleem Shah, Inc. Lucky for You and Empress of Midway finished in a dead heat for second, 3 lengths behind the winner.
Warren’s Knockout (8-1 odds) held off furious challenges from both Wine Police and Isn’t He Clever to take a thrilling victory in the $75,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes at six and one-half furlongs. The Justin Evans trained sprinter was in between both rivals but held safe to win by a neck in a time of 1:14.41. Justin Evans continued his torrid winning ways at Sunland Park and collected his seventh stakes win of the meet. Alfredo Juarez, Jr. rode the winner. Wine Police finished a close second followed by stable mate and defending champion Isn’t He Clever.
Mancation earned a driving win and broke his maiden in the $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby going one mile and one-sixteenth. Owned by R.D. Hubbard, the New Mexico-bred son of Going Wild picked a lucrative time to win his first race. Irwin Rosendo placed a cool ride aboard the gelding, just holding off Desert Mystery in a driving finish. The 21-1 long shot paid $45.40 to win. Bart Hone trained the winner.
Zasha pulled off a mild 4-1 upset win in the $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks with jockey John Velazquez in the saddle. Joel Marr was the winning trainer.
African Rose went wire to wire and successfully defended her title in the $75,000 Harry Henson Handicap. Alfredo Juarez, Jr. won his second stakes of the day aboard the 11-time winner for trainer Justin Evans.
Tricky R. turned away Funnyoushouldask to take a dramatic front running win in the $85,000 La Coneja Stakes at five and one furlongs. Jockey Nancy Summers rode a perfect race for a jubilant winning trainer Camie Telford. Tricky R, a multiple stakes winner of 11 races, is owned by Ruth Summers.
VIDEO COURTESY: Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino