Nine three year olds with 2014 Kentucky Derby dreams will meet up this Sunday in Sunland Park, New Mexico for the grade 3 Sunland Derby. The group features runners from all over the country as horses will be shipping in from Arizona, California, Florida, and Arkansas. Trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher each will send out a pair of runners and should have a lot to say in the outcome of this race. In the Sunland Derby’s short twelve year history, only one runner (Mine That Bird) that competed in this race went on to Derby Glory. But you never know. A nice horse could pop up anywhere at any time. Regardless if we see the next Derby winner or not, year in and year out this is always a fun race that I look forward to. This year’s ensemble is no different. Let’s take a look at the pace scenario and figure out who the contenders and pretenders are…
Pace – The pace should be contested, and possibly hot, as Garen, Global Strike, and Tanzanite Cat should all be vying for the lead. Baffert’s pair of Midnight Hawk and Chitu should be pressing closely as well. In addition to those five horses, we also have two that are adding blinkers, Commissioner and Rebranded, and they may be on the pace too. There will be no free rides up front today. I think this will be one by either a presser or stalker that can get a nice spot behind the speed.
1 - Bourbonize – After starting his career with two convincing scores he jumped up to stakes company last out in the Southwest at Oaklawn. He broke widest of all that day and never posed a serious threat while finishing sixth beaten over eleven lengths. While I wasn’t that impressed with that effort, I am not ready to give up on him just yet. He should be able to work out a nice inside trip today and have a very nice pace to close into. He is viewed as a contender in my eyes.
2 - Garen – He got a very easy lead with a soft pace in his maiden breaking score last out at Santa Anita. He will not have that luxury today. Add that to the fact that this is his first start verses winners and big rise in class, and I will have to pass. I view his as a pace player only.
3 - Commissioner – This is a tough call. This Todd Pletcher trained colt ships in second off the layoff, adds blinkers, and gets the services of Johnny V. for his journey today. Those are all positive things. What one must worry about though is what happened in his last start in the Fountain of Youth. I know the track was very speed favoring that day, but he seemed like he didn’t want to run at all. Maybe the addition of blinkers will help, but I am not completely sold. He very well could win, but I am playing against him and will limit his use to underneath in the exotics.
4 - Global Strike – This is Pletcher’s “other” charge in here. He is coming off a gate to wire maiden win at Gulfstream on a very slicked up track. Taking that into consideration and with this being his first start verses winners, makes him a pass for me. He will get no free ride up front today.
5 - Tanzanite Cat – He gets his winning jock back in the saddle for his trip out west, but I do not think it will matter. While he is talented I do not think he will appreciate the added ground. In my opinion, he was exposed in the Southwest. He either needs a nice easy lead or a perfect pressing trip to shine. He will get neither today. He has too much to overcome in my eyes so I will pass on him today.
6 - Lawly’s Goal – I am afraid this gelding is in way over his head. He has never run fast enough to compete with the likes of these. He would be a total shock. Pass.
7 - Midnight Hawk – Although this colt has been running with the west coast heavyweights, I am completely against him today. He always runs his race, I will give him that, but I just feel the extra distance of today’s race will do nothing to help his cause. He has burned a lot of his backer’s money in his last two starts and I believe he will again today. When he shortens up in distance, I will be all over him. As for today, I am way against, especially at a short price.
8 - Rebranded – This former Pletcher trainee joined Justin Evans’ yard at Sunland Park back in December and has run a couple of nice races in stakes for his new trainer since. He goes out second off the layoff today while adding blinkers and has been working well in the morning. While I think he is a cut below this group, I do believe the local fella could hit the board at a nice price. He seems like he should handle the added ground just fine.
9 - Chitu – He is the “other” Baffert in the field and the one I think has a huge shot. In his first try routing last out in the Robert B. Lewis, he ran his best Beyer Fig yet (95) as he ran a nice second to the highly touted Candy Boy that day. I envision him getting a nice pressing trip today, and if he can handle the distance, I see him blowing by them turning for home. He is a major contender in my eyes.
The Play – I am all in on Chitu here. He is a colt who is on the improve and should get a nice trip. I am going to ladder him across the board and use him as a key in the Exacta, Trifecta, and in multi-race wagers. If I were to add one more to my multi-race wagers Bourbonize would be next in line. Good luck, everyone.