Chitu generated a courageous winning performance and gave trainer Bob Baffert his third $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) crown on Sunday at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in front of an all-time record crowd of 18,642 fans.
Despite being headed by stable mate Midnight Hawk, Chitu found enough energy reserves to come back and re-take the lead and win the Kentucky Derby prep race by 2 and ¼ lengths under jockey Martin Garcia. Bet down to 9-5 favoritism, the former $300,000 OBS sales graduate was primed for a big effort in the one and one-eighth mile classic.
Assistant Trainer Jim Barnes said after the race, “From day one, everything went well. He shipped well. With two sprints and one route under his belt, this was the race he needed. He’s getting fitter and fitter.”
Winning owners Charles and Susan Chu of the Tanma Corporation were ecstatic in the winner’s circle and gave all the credit to trainer Bob Baffert, jockey Martin Garcia and assistant Trainer Jim Barnes. The Chus have been in the racing business for two years and have owned two stakes winners in 2013 Southwest Stakes winner Super Ninetynine and now Chitu. Mrs. Chu said that Chitu’s name derives from one of the all-time greatest racehorses in China and the pronunciation is the same.
Chitu, runner-up in the Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, seemed to relish the Sunland Park oval. The Henny Hughes colt pressed the pace setter Garen early and still had plenty of fight left for Midnight Hawk down the lane. He drew off handsomely and was timed in 1:47.88. The clocking just missed the track and stakes record held by Govenor Charlie of 1:47.54 from the 2013 Sunland Derby (Gr. III). Baffert and Garcia combined forces to win last year’s Sunland Park Derby (Gr. III) with Govenor Charlie. Chitu earned $400,000 from his third career win from four starts and picked up 50 valuable qualifying points to the 2014 Kentucky Derby. He has now earned over a half million dollars.
Baffert’s second horse in the race Midnight Hawk looked like a winner passing the quarter mile marker when given his cue by jockey Mike Smith. The grey roan colt by Midnight Lute made a bold sweeping 3-wide move and took the lead heading into the stretch run. He battled bravely through the lane but could not conquer Chitu. The 2-1 second choice had to settle for second, finishing 4 and ¾ lengths in front of Commissioner. Midnight Hawk placed in his third straight graded stakes race. He earned a $176,000 paycheck for owners Hill ‘n’ Dale Holdings, Inc. (J.G. Sikura), Kitchen, Pegram et al. Additionally, Midnight Hawk picked up 20 more qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, pushing his total point tally to 52.
Todd Pletcher’s Commissioner raced with blinkers for the first time and finished third after bobbling at the start. He failed to muster a potent stretch attack. The A.P. Indy colt earned $96,000 for the WinStar Farm, LLC. He picked up 10 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby. Riley Allison Futurity winner and Mine That Bird Stakes winner Rebranded finished a distant fourth for trainer Justin Evans. He picked up 5 points towards entry to the Kentucky Derby. Bourbonize, Global Strike, Garen, Tanzanite Cat and Lawly’s Goal rounded out the order of finish.