in 2003, the Sunland Derby has come a long way in a short amount of time. The snap shot of its timeline: off the radar to worth a total of 85 qualification points. Did something
happen in this short amount of time that made this prep so reputable. I can’t
give one year or one single horse all the credit but the second biggest long
shot in Kentucky Derby history may have helped.
Photo: Coady Photography/Sunland Park
50.60-1 Mine That Bird paid $103.20 to win when he and Calvin Borel stormed
home along the rail and shocked the thoroughbred racing world. The triumph
ranks behind Donerail who in 1913 was sent off at odds of 91.45-1 and paid
$184.90 to win.
you ask an experienced handicapper how they learned to master the racing form
they’ll probably tell you that they learned a few things when losing. By going
back to your program and looking at the winner you might find something you
missed. If so, those same details that were once buried in the charts become
more apparent the next time around. However, there are also times that when you
do, you won’t see anything different or find anything at all. This is when you
just shake your head and right it off as either a mystery or the work of the
my opinion, 2009 was the latter. What’s so curious about Mine That Bird is that
he didn’t race in a single graded stakes race in his 3-yr-old season prior to
the Kentucky Derby. That’s right, it wasn’t until 2010 that the Sunland Derby
became an official graded stakes race.
Before this moment in racing history the Sunland Derby had yet to send to a single entry to the Kentucky Derby. Obviously that ended in ‘09 but what is also interesting about that year is that Mine That Bird was not the only entry that would eventually qualify for the big show. And this was accomplished regardless of the fact that neither of the two were able to finish in the money at the Sunland Derby. Finishing right behind MTB in 5th was Advice, trained by Todd Pletcher at the time. Following the Sunland Derby he would move on to score in a last ditch effort, the Lexington Stakes, and thus found his way into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Mine That Bird on other hand did not need another stakes race as he had earned enough in his 2-yr-old season to qualify.
these two broke the ice, the Sunland Derby continued to make an impact on the
Kentucky Derby trail. The following year it was a Grade III stakes race and
since, at least one horse within the field the following three years was able
to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
Year Horse SD Result
is where the debate can begin. When combined with 2009, has the Sunland Derby produced
enough quality Kentucky Derby contenders to have earned the prestigious honor
of being included in the new qualification system? If you’re on the border with
that question than maybe you’d rather I ask if it should be worth a total of 85 points?
that makes the case against the Sunland Derby is where these horses over the
past three years finished on the first Saturday in May. Unfortunately, none of
them were able to finish anywhere outside the middle of the pack - Daddy Nose
Best & Twice the Appeal: 10th – Conveyance: 15th. Something
else that does not help the argument is that the Sunland Derby was their last
prep before they moved on to Churchill Downs. So, they didn’t exactly come away
any better than they were going in and did not beat any other Kentucky Derby entries. Maybe they were just the best horse in a
very mediocre field?
However, there is a pretty solid counter point to that argument: Their résumé in races leading up to the Sunland Derby. Because
Conveyance and Daddy Nose Best both scored G3 wins prior to the Sunland some
could argue for a nice prep season and defend their place in the starting
Another overall argument as to why this race was included in the new points system is based on two key ingredients: distance and
dirt. Because Churchill Downs made it pretty clear that distance was a major factor,
and because so many qualification races are on the dirt, it probably helped the
Sunland Derby as much as or more than anything else.
brings me to back to the tough question: Should it be worth 50 points to the winner? I ask because while I do agree that the Sunland Derby should be included, it does not help me answer if it should be a win in you’re in race. Of course that is based on the assumption that 50 points will be enough to get you
into the 2013 Kentucky Derby but it definitely seems likely.
understand that the timing of the race would make it awkward if the Sunland
Derby was valued any differently but there would be a remedy to that if
Churchill Downs made a suggestion. Live racing at Sunland Park begins in
December and runs through the end of April. So, now that this has been added to
the equation do you think that the Sunland Derby should have been moved back to
February so that it could have been included with the qualification races worth
only 10 points to the winner and 17 overall?
now, however, that’s not what happened. Plus, racing at any value below 85
total points is not in the cards this season. One thing that is encouraging,
however, is that a few of the sport’s top trainers will be using it. Unfortunately,
with the defection of Titletown Five, D. Wayne Lukas is not one of those trainers.
But, guys like Baffert, Pletcher, Asmussen, and O’Neill have still put the Sunland
Derby in a very good position moving forward.
The reason I mention these trainers is because if any of them begin to like
this Kentucky Derby prep a little more under the new system then this debate
may not last very long. As we saw in 2009, it only takes one year to change the
way a Kentucky Derby prep is perceived. So, after 2013 will we see if any of
these horses become the second Sunland Derby entry that went on to wear the
roses? Or at least finish in the top 3?