The 14th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) is fast approaching on Sunday, March 26 and a deep field is aligning for the integral Kentucky Derby prep race at one mile and one-eighth. Powered by 50 qualifying points to the winner and $400,000 in first place prize monies, Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino’s marque race draws plenty of interest nationwide including an array of the nation’s top Thoroughbred trainers.
Additionally, over $1.5 million in purses will be on the line for Sunland Derby (Gr. III) Day which also includes the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap, $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes, $100,000 La Coneja Stakes, $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks and $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby.
In 2015, Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner Firing Line went on to finish a gallant second to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby. 2009 Sunland Derby graduate Mine That Bird bounded to a 50-1 victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
The 2017 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) has once again drawn the attention of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The 3-time winner of the Sunland Derby is sending out the rapidly improving Bronze Age. Last seen scoring a wire to wire victory in a maiden race at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 18, the three-year-old son of Mineshaft is growing in confidence and has recorded two strong workouts at Santa Anita since that victory. Bronze Age zipped through his first victory going one mile so he is no stranger to winning around two turns. Baffert won the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) with Wanna Runner (2004), Govenor Charlie (2013) and Chitu (2014). His charge could be the favorite in the Sunland feature.
Conquest Mo Money represents the strongest chance for a local charge to win the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) since Song of Navarone won it 2007. Owned by leading owners Judge Lanier Racing led by Tom and Sandy McKenna, Conquest Mo Money has been nothing short of sensational winning all three career starts at Sunland Park this year. The former $8,500 bargain purchase broke his maiden on Jan. 6 and returned for two brilliant scores in the $100,000 Riley Allison Derby and the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby.
In his most recent triumph, the Uncle Mo sophomore turned away a challenge from Southern California graded stakes placed runner Irap and won by 2 comfortable lengths. The local star retains a high degree of cruising speed and absolutely loves to route. The winner of nearly $133,000 trained by Miguel Hernandez holds a firm grip on the home field advantage.
Irap is slated for a return visit to Sunland Park for 2-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill. The $124,600 earner remains a maiden but has placed in the Los Alamitos Futurity (Gr. 1), the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (Gr. 2) and the Mine That Bird Derby. O’Neill saddled Sunland Derby winners in 2003 and 2005 with Excessivepleasure and Thor’s Echo, respectively.
Total Tap presents a lead attack from Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen who won this race in 2012 with Daddy Nose Best. Total Tap is a 2-time winner and is fresh off an allowance win at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 18. The good looking son of Candy Ride is owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds. Oaklawn Park maiden winner Hence may also be a part of Asmussen’s strong hand.
Shareholder Value races for trainer Tom Amoss with earnings nearing $90,000. Amoss won the 2008 Sunland Derby with Liberty Bull. Shareholder Value split the fields in both the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes.
Todd Pletcher’s Hedge Fund is an imposing son of Super Saver with a maiden win at Gulfstream Park. D. Wayne Lukas’ Dilettante and Ken McPeek’s Oxford Lane remain potential Sunland Derby (Gr. III) runners. Proven local horses: Ol’ Drunk Daddy for Paul Smith; Wine N Devine for Greg Green and Oh So Regal for Miguel Hernandez are also in the mix.
Grade I Chandelier Stakes winner Noted and Quoted will take dead aim on the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks. Making her first start since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Noted and Quoted will attract much attention for 7-time Sunland Park Oaks winning trainer Bob Baffert. Island Fashion Stakes winner Mopotism should return for trainer Doug O’Neill. El Paso Times Stakes winner and Island Fashion runner-up Kell Paso rates another threat along with Asmussen’s Golden Mischief, McPeek’s Soft Cheese and Pletcher’s Ghalia.
2011 Sunland Park Oaks winner Plum Pretty won the 2011 Kentucky Oaks for Baffert.
Post time for the all-Thoroughbred 10-race card on Sunland Derby Day is 1:30 p.m. The Sunland Derby (Gr. III) is scheduled for the 9th race at approximately 5:28 p.m. El Paso time.
The Sunland Derby Gala benefiting Alzheimer’s Association and Keep Memory Alive will kick start the Sunland Derby Festival on Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m. in the Turf Club. Celebrity Guests include renown chef Scott Conant and Frank Sinatra impressionist and Las Vegas legend Bob Anderson.
On Saturday, March 25, Amanecer will play a free concert starting at 9 p.m.
A free handicapping seminar takes place on Sunday, March 26 at noon in the Signature Showroom. Racing experts Tom Dawson, Robert Geller and Julie Farr will chair the informative program.