For all the successes Bob Baffert
has experienced in the world of thoroughbred racing, he still has yet to conquer the state of New Mexico.
Sure, he’s won more than his fair share of the track’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies, the Sunland Oaks.
He’s even parlayed success in the Sunland Oaks to success in the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May at Churchill Downs.
It’s been the Sunland Derby
that has somewhat eluded the white-haired wizard.
With the exception of an impressive score by Wanna Runner in 2006, Baffert’s experiences in the track’s richest race have been a bit of a disappointment.
And a well-bet disappointment at that.
Last year, Sinai finished last as the 2-to-1 favorite.
In 2009, Baffert sent out both Mythical Power (2nd) and Mayor Marv (11th).
Now, to be fair to Baffert, the Sunland Derby has only had true Kentucky Derby implications in the last several years. On the flipside, with turnaround performances in Triple Crown races by both Mine That Bird
(4th in the 2009 Sunland Derby) and Ruler On Ice (3rd in last year’s Sunland Derby), it’s no longer fashionable to just dismiss the richest of the Derby preps at this point of the season.
With that said, Baffert will be trying to break a mini-jinx when he sends out a pair of runners in the featured event of the Sunland season, the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby, which goes as the 12th race on a loaded, stakes-heavy card at Sunland Park near El Paso, Texas.
(2-to-1 ML favorite) comes into the Sunland Derby off two consecutive wins, including a dominating, runaway score in one of the divisions of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas last month.
A 3-year-old colt by Street Sense
, Castaway (currently ranked 9th on the HRN Kentucky Derby contenders
page) will make his second start under Rafael Bejarano. The $209,930 in lifetime earning would qualify him for the starting gate for the May 5 Kentucky Derby, but the lion’s share of this purse would put Castaway among the leaders in total earnings and all but assure him a spot in the starting gate for the run for the roses.
The inside post doesn’t figure to be much of a problem for Castaway, who could very easily be tucked away on a ground-saving trip either on the lead or just off what appears to be a tepid early pace.
The speed of the race may be right next to Castaway, in recent maiden winner Ender Knievel.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Ender Knievel
(6-to-1) drew off to a sharp maiden win at Gulfstream Park in a one-turn mile event on Feb. 5.
He will be ridden by John Velasquez in the Derby, and his race tactics could play a hand into the tactics of Castaway. This will be Ender Knievel’s first race around two turns and his first start facing winners.
From a wagering standpoint, Ender Knievel does figure to garner a lot of support based on the strength of his maiden win and the high-profile nature of his connections. For those reasons, we’ll try and beat him out of the exotics.
(8-to-1), also from the Baffert barn, and also coming off a maiden win in his most recent start, ships in from Santa Anita and will be coming from off the pace under Martin Garcia.
Isn’t He Clever
(4-to-1) is hard to overlook despite the fact that he’ll be facing a much tougher cast of characters than he’s faced in either of his two wins over the Sunland oval.
The only other time Isn’t He Clever faced a true stakes-caliber field, he showed speed and quit at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes last month.
The Henry Dominguez-trained son of Smarty Jones will be ridden for the first time by Luis Contreras.
No Spin (8-to-1) has two wins from eight career starts, and comes into the Sunland Derby off a 6th place effort in the same division of the Southwest Stakes that Castaway exits.
Prior to that effort, the son of Johannesburg closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a 4th place finish in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park before starting his sophomore season with a 10th place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Daddy Nose Best
(3-to-1) was visually impressive getting up in the final jump to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields last time out. Each of the last six races for the son of Scat Daddy had been on turf, with 2 wins from those tries.
The Steve Asmussen trainee shows only two races on traditional dirt tracks, at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old last summer. He can be used in exotics based on his connections, but he’ll need to be a bit closer to the early pace than he’s been traveling of late.
Tequila Factor (15-to-1) won a small stakes race on the Turf Paradise grass, and was badly beaten in three races at Sunland and Churchill prior to that effort. Only Isn’t He Clever and Tequila Factor have won four times in their career, but there’s nothing to suggest the C.L. Wilson trainee has what it takes to win here.
Justanoldsong (20-to-1) broke his maiden in his career debut here at Sunland before finishing 6th in the Borderland Derby in just his second career start. Quite frankly, I’ll pass.
Post time for the Sunland Derby is 5:45 p.m. (MTN)
The play: Win bet on CASTAWAY at 8/5 or better. Cold exactas with Castaway over Ender Knievel and Isn't He Clever.