$700,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) happens on Sunday, March 22
A wide open field of Kentucky Derby hopefuls will likely be headed to the starting gate when Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino showcases some of the nation’s best runners on Sunland Derby (Gr. III) Day, Sunday March 22nd.
The main event of the day is the 17th edition of the $700,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III), at a distance of 1 1/8 miles, with a strong field of 3-year-olds lined up for a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
In addition to the lion’s share of the richest race of the season, the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner receives 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby and a virtual berth into the Run for the Roses. The second place finisher receives 20 points while the third place runner earns 10 points and fourth place gets 5 points.
Headlining that field will be Sir Rick, a recent 4-length winner of the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby here last month for trainer Robertino Diodoro and owner Richard L. Davis.
Sir Rick, a Kentucky-bred son of Paynter, has won both his starts as a 3-year-old this year, earlier winning an allowance race at Sam Houston Race Park.
Diodoro, regarded as one of the nation’s most successful trainers, has been in the top five among leading conditioners in the country since 2014.
Challenging Sir Rick for the Sunland Derby crown will likely be Azul Coast. A two-time winner from three starts, Azul Coast most recently scored a victory in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
The son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver is trained by Bob Baffert, who in addition to having saddled two Triple Crown winners, has also won the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) three times.
Also among the probables for the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) is Shoplifted, with more than $438,000 in career earnings already on his resume.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Shoplifted recorded his biggest win when taking the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park last fall. As a 3-year-old, the son of Into Mischief has been stakes placed twice this season. Asmussen is a two-time winner of the Sunland Derby, most recently with Hence in 2017.
Other likely contenders for the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) will be Great Power, who broke his maiden in his only lifetime start for trainer Simon Callaghan, who won the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) in 2015 with Firing Line.
Fast Enough is also considered a probable for the Sunland Derby for trainer Rafael Becerra. The son of Eddington won the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita Park in January. Most recently, he finished third in the San Vicente Stakes, where he was beaten just two lengths by highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospect Nadal.
The Sunland Derby has produced several prominent winners of stakes races around the country, most notably Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who finished fourth in the 2009 renewal of the Sunland Derby before shocking the racing world in his next start under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
More recently, 2015 Sunland Derby winner Firing Line, who followed up his victory with a second place finish in the Kentucky Derby behind eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
2017 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner Hence would campaign against some of the nation’s top thoroughbreds, with multiple stakes victories including the Grade 3 Iowa Derby and as a 4-year-old, winning the Governor’s Cup at Remington Park in Oklahoma.
2018 Sunland Derby winner (Gr. III) Runaway Ghost has proven himself to be a multiple stakes winner in the state of New Mexico, with wins in the Sunland Park Handicap as well as the Curribot Handicap and Ft Bliss Stakes as a 4-year-old.
The $700,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) has shown itself to be one of the leading stepping stone races for the Triple Crown and for future top class performances.
Seven stakes races worth nearly $1.5 million on tap for Sunland Derby Sunday
Also headlining the Sunland Derby day program will be the 19th renewal of the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, the co-featured event on the program. For 3-year-old fillies with their sights set on the Kentucky Oaks, a strong field will line up for the 1 1/16 mile event.
Among the leading candidates for the Sunland Park Oaks will be Shanghai Keely and Brave Cinderella, top two finishers in the Island Fashion Stakes here last month, both of which hail from the barn of Sunland Park’s leading thoroughbred trainer Justin Evans.
Ankle Monitor is another probable candidate for the Sunland Park Oaks. A multiple time stakes-placed filly on the east coast, she hails from the barn of trainer Claudio Gonzalez, as well as K P Dreamin, also multiple stakes placed and representing the barn of trainer Jeff Mullins.
Also featured on the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) program will be the 31st running of the $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes will feature many of the region’s best older sprinters racing 6 1/2 furlongs.
Runaway Ghost, winner of more than $780,000 in his career and multiple stakes winner at Sunland Park, will likely square off in the Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes with Pendleton, who most recently finished second in the Winsham Lad Handicap at one mile.
Other stakes races set to be featured on the program is the 28th running of the $100,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap for older fillies and mares navigating a distance of one mile.
New Mexico-bred stakes runners will also be featured on the Sunland Derby program with the 17th edition of the $120,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby as well as the 12th renewal of the $120,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks.
Older state-breds will get their chance in the spotlight in the 19th running of the $120,000 New Mexico State University Handicap at 1 mile and 70 yards.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography