After a two year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico, is back as a potential stop on the Kentucky Derby Trail. The 50 points awarded to the winner would almost certainly be enough to earn a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
This race may be best known for a horse that didn’t win it, but he did go on to win the Kentucky Derby. That would be the improbable Mine That Bird who prepped here before his Derby victory in 2008. Of the horses that actually won this race, Firing Line would be the most notable. He won this race in 2015 before being the runner-up to the Triple Crown Champ, American Pharoah on Derby Day.
This year’s edition features eight horses, lead by the Los Alamitos Futurity winner, Slow Down Andy, who is looking to rebound after a dull effort in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in his last start. He faces Straight Up G, who was the winner in the local prep last out.
Sunland Park Sunday 3/27/22, Race 11: The Grade 3 Sunland Derby
85 Total Derby points (50/20/10/5)
1 – Costa Terra (8-1 ML): He’s one of two runners for Steve Asmussen in this race. He was last seen finishing 4th in allowance company at Oaklawn, beaten by Call Me Jamal, who could be a candidate for the Arkansas Derby next week. He really hasn’t progressed that much since winning his debut in the slop at Ellis back in July. This feels like a bit of a reach for him, but he’ll likely be overbet, coming from a high profile barn. I’ll be against him here.
2 – Classic Moment (7-2 ML): Asmussen’s other runner is a Classic Empire colt who came up short after a five wide bid in the Mine That Bird Derby, which is the local prep for this race. Like his stablemate, he was overmatched two starts ago in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. He does draw a better post this afternoon, but I’m not convinced that he’s good enough to beat these. Rosario coming in to ride is a plus, but I’ll try to beat him.
3 – Fowler Blue (20-1 ML): This California bred son of Curlin to Mischief is an outsider with this group. His first win came in a state bred $50K maiden claimer at Del Mar this past fall. He did beat open company two back at Santa Anita when facing optional claiming/starter allowance company. He was most recently 4th in the Mine That Bird Derby, with the three runners that beat him, all coming back in this race. I don’t think he’s good enough to win here.
4- Slow Down Andy (2-1 ML): The morning line favorite ended his two year old campaign by beating the highly touted Messier on the square in the Los Alamitos Futurity in December. Doug O’Neill tried to recapture the good mojo that he had with Hot Rod Charlie in New Orleans last year when he sent this California bred son of Nyquist to the Fair Grounds last month. He met a rock solid field in the Grade 2 Risen Star. It’s not impossible to think that the top three finishers in that race could all be single digit odds on Derby Day. He was 6th that day, finishing 10 lengths behind the winners. This is a logical spot for him to make his next start. He already has ten Derby Points, so he’d definitely be guaranteed a spot in the Derby if he were to win. Reddam Racing loves to run on big days, and I’m sure he’d love to be back in Louisville with a homebred son of their last Derby champ. He definitely fits here from a class perspective and his speed figures are just a little better than everyone else. If he takes a small step forward in his new surroundings, he’ll be tough to beat.
5 – Bye Bye Bobby (9-2 ML): He might be the most fascinating horse in this race. He was purchased at the Keeneland September Sale in 2020 for a whopping $870K. You don’t see too many New Mexico based horses that cost that kind of money, but Todd Fincher has done well with some higher profile horses of late, so he gets a chance with a true, blue blood. He sure looked the part when he won the Zia Park Juvenile Stakes race in his debut back in November. He flopped next out in the Springboard Mile at Remington, but he’s run well, finishing second twice in the local preps for this race. I think he might have the highest ceiling in the group and I’ll pick him to pull off the mild upset here.
6 – Pepper Spray (15-1 ML): He did beat my top pick when winning the Riley Allison Derby back in January. He took his undefeated record into the Mine That Bird Derby last month, where he turned in his first true clunker. He was a little wide, but there was no visible excuse for such a poor effort. I think the water is deeper, and he’d benefit more from dropping in class instead of moving up.
7 –Chrome King (15-1 ML): The winner of the Turf Paradise Derby in Arizona, crosses state lines to tackle tougher rivals today. His trip here was not good when he finished up the track in the Riley Allison Derby three starts ago. While his last try was solid, I think he’ll be overmatched while racing on a course he seemed to struggle to get a hold of that day.
8 – Straight Up G (5-2 ML): He’s another California bred that has a live look in this race. He broke his maiden in his second career start and then went on to win the state bred King Glorious Stakes to end his two year old season. That was the same race that California Chrome won at the end of his two year old season. He started his year in the California Cup Derby, where he was sent off as the heavy favorite. However, Fast Draw Munnings nailed him on the wire that day. He recovered to win the Mine That Bird Derby in his local debut last month, which was his first effort with open company. He has the best speed in this field, and speed can certainly be good on the course at times. I’d definitely use him in my wagers.
The verdict: 5-4-8
While there’s no question that Slow Down Andy has been facing the best horses, I’m not sure how high the ceiling is. He might win this race on class alone, but he’ll likely be 6-5 or less. He’s got to be on your multi-race tickets, but I’m going to take a chance with the expensive colt, Bye Bye Bobby, to continue to improve and pull off the mild upset here. He’s recovered from his bad effort in Oklahoma, and has put together two solid races in local stakes races. I think he can nail Straight Up G late and hold off Slow Down Andy, who will likely be grinding home. If speed is carrying, as it often does on these big race days, you’ll have to get Straight Up G on the tickets as well.
Regardless of the outcome though, it’s hard to envision anyone from this octet being able to have an impact on the Derby. But, as Mine That Bird proved, anything can happen if you’re in the starting gate.
Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.