Cutting Humor prevails in Sunland Derby thriller

Starlight Racing’s Cutting Humor, under an all-out drive from jockey John Velazquez, narrowly edged late-running Anothertwistafate to win Sunday’s 16th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) in track record time.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, the son of First Samurai ranged up five wide around the far turn after tracking a quick early pace. A duel between post time favorite Mucho Gusto and Hustle Up saw quick fractions of 22.76 seconds and 45.63 seconds for the opening half-mile.

Cutting Humor, always within striking range, loomed up around the far turn and challenged Mucho Gusto at the head of the lane. After putting that one away, Velazquez kept busy aboard the winner, prevailing by a neck over a fast-charging Anothertwistafate and jockey Juan Hernandez. The margin of victory marks the closest finish in the history of the race.

“The pace of the race was so fast,” Velazquez said in the winners circle. “The way he held on there at the end was good experience.”

The final time of 1 minute, 46.94 seconds for the 1 1/8 miles establishes a new stakes and course record, bettering the old course record of Oh So Regal, who ran the same distance last year in 1 minute, 47.12 seconds.

With the win, Cutting Humor all but assures himself a spot in the starting gate for the May 5 Kentucky Derby. The top four finishers in the Sunland Derby earn qualifying points for entry into the Run for the Roses. Cutting Humor, with the win, is firmly on the leaderboard with 50 points. The current leader is By My Standards, who has 100 points by virtue of his win this weekend in the Louisiana Derby. Cutting Humor would be tied for fifth on the current leaderboard.

Cutting Humor is a 2-time winner from 6 lifetime starts. He broke his maiden last December at Gulfstream Park West in his final start as a 2-year-old. After finishing second in an optional claiming route last January, he was well-beaten in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park last time out. His victory in the Sunland Derby adds $460,800 to his lifetime earnings, which now stand at nearly $517,000.

Runnerup Anothertwistafate may have also earned himself a position in the Kentucky Derby field. Trained by Blaine Wright, the son of Scat Daddy added 20 Derby points to his career ledger. The second place finish snapped a three-race win streak, which included a victory in the El Camino Real Derby on the tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields last time out.

Anothertwistafate now has 30 Derby points, which would put him currently in a tie for 10th among the leaders.

After the top pair, it was nearly six lengths back to third place finisher Mucho Gusto, who was sent off as the post time favorite. The Bob Baffert trainee battled the winner briefly at the head of the lane before losing contact with the top pair. By virtue of his third place finish, Mucho Gusto added 10 points to his resume, which gives him 24 points and places him 13th among the leaders.

Behind Mucho Gusto, it was another length and a half back to Wicked Indeed, who finished fourth, ahead of Eye Cloud, Pasamonte Man, Hustle Up, Collusionist and Walker Stalker. Diamond Blitz was scratched earlier in the day.

Sent off as the second choice in the wagering at odds of 2.30-to-1, Cutting Humor returned $6.60 to his winning backers among the on-track crowd of nearly 17,000 fans. The Sunland Derby card achieved new heights for overall handle. All sources handle on the 12-race program surpassed $4.7 million. The previous record was last year’s Derby card at $4.3 million.

Chasing Yesterday overcomes tardy start to win Oaks

Not even a tardy getaway could prevent Chasing Yesterday from an impressive score in Sunday’s co-featured event, the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks.

The 3-year-old filly by Tapit and a half-sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Chasing Yesterday overcame a hop at the start under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, rallied to contest the leading pair of Enlisting and K P Slickem down the backstretch, assumed a slim lead around the far turn before opening up on her rivals on her way to a 1 1/4 length win for trainer Bob Baffert, who picked up his eighth win in the prestigious event.

Baffert admitted to some nervous moments during the race, particularly after the break.

“She was standing just fine in the gate until the horse next to her moved and she hopped right at the start,” Baffert said. “We had some real nightmares, but she’s such a good filly and her class prevailed.”

In addition to the $116,400 paycheck she earned on Sunday, which increases her lifetime winnings to $440,680 for owners Summer Wind Equine, Chasing Yesterday picked up 50 qualifying points in her quest to reach the starting gate for the May 4 Kentucky Oaks, which will be held at Churchill Downs. Currently, she is tied for third among the points leaders with 60 total points.

Chasing Yesterday is a four-time stakes winner. She won the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes last December at Los Alamitos Race Course in her final race as a 2-year-old. She also owns victories in the Desi Arnaz Stakes last fall at Del Mar and the Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita Park. She has won five time from six career starts, her only loss coming last summer in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga.

Chasing Yesterday ran the 1 1/16 miles in a final time of 1 minute, 43.18 seconds and returned $2.10 as the overwhelming post time favorite. K P Slickem ran well to hold on for second, just a head in front of Backflash, while Figure rounded out the first four finishers.

Bellafina was scratched earlier in the day.

Live racing resumes on Tuesday at 12:50 p.m.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography