Sunland Park Derby 2022 Entries: O'Neill's Slow Down Andy invades
Race 11: 1 1/8th (Dirt), Sunland Park Derby (G3), Purse $500k, 3 (Sunday)
The Sunland Derby is back! After a 2-year hiatus because of the Pandemic, this Grade 3 affair once again takes to the oval at the “Racino” just outside of El Paso, Texas. Picking up where they left off, the end of the Sunland Series is this race, their Derby, which carries Kentucky Derby Points of 50-20-10-5 for the Top 4 finishers. In the past, a bevy of invaders have come to town, looking to try to punch their ticket to Churchill Downs and the “1st Saturday in May.” Trainers like Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, and Todd Pletcher are some of the “Big Boys” that have celebrated in the winner’s circle. Local New Mexico trainer, Todd Fincher won the 2018 edition of this race with Runaway Ghost, but that nifty router was unable to make a Triple Crown run due to an injury. It will be interesting to see if shippers will rule once again, or a Sunland colt will represent!
Now, let’s find out about this field…
#1 Costa Terra (Jky: L. Negron/Trn: S. Asmussen):
HOF trainer Steve Asmussen is coming back to Sunland, looking for more Derby “Points” for his barn. This colt by Gun Runner (a former runner of his that you might have heard of) is one-half of the uncoupled entry. The 3-yr-old has some good experience, competing most recently at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. He was severely outmatched 2-back in the Southwest S. (G3), and in his latest, a tough OC80kn1x at the end of February. One has to think that coming to Sunland Derby might be a lark, and Asmussen is just looking to see how this Winchell homebred will handle the pressure of a big race. That’s not specious reasoning to assume … What we do know is that Oaklawn is the “real deal” when it comes to racing, and those were a couple of stiff tests. The conditioner signs up local ace Luis Negron to ride his colt, and we will see how he fares against what looks like a pretty solid field.
#2 Classic Moment (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: S. Asmussen):
Here is another alum from the Southwest S. (G3) that Steve Asmussen sought to bring out West in hopes of a “better tomorrow.” Bred by Team Valor, and owned partly by Winchell, this colt by Classic Empire tried the Sunland MT in late February in the Mine That Bird Derby $100k. The 3-yr-old was really no match for the top 2 finishers in that race—Straight Up G #8 and Bye Bye Bobby #5. Sure, he closed nicely, but it was too little, too late. Coming back to the track, Asmussen has what he considers an “ace in-the-hole” … Joel Rosario. The Eclipse Award Jockey of the Year is in-town, and he is tasked with getting this runner back on track. We will see if it makes a difference …
#3 Fowler Blue (Jky: E. Maldonado/Trn: L. Mendez):
Here is yet another alum from the Mine That Bird Derby $100k, and this one ended up off-the-board. Luis Mendez is a SoCal-based trainer that has a small stable, but that doesn’t mean he cannot compete against the behemoths. Regular rider Edwin Maldonado is back aboard once again, and is going to try and improve his mount’s effort. This gelding is really an outsider looking in … In other words, he is going to have to run his very best, and even that … may not be enough.
#4 Slow Down Andy (Jky: M. Gutierrez/Trn: D. O’Neill):
Probably the most dangerous player that has drawn-in for the Sunland Derby is this Nyquist colt trained by Doug O’Neill. This 3-yr-old was stellar in the Los Al Futurity (G2) way back in early December. His conditioner then decided to send him to the bench for some rest. After some new year works, the plan was to enter in the late February running of the Grade 2 Risen Star S. That was a big ask for the Reddam Racing runner, and I thought it showed one of 2 things … either O’Neill was supremely confident about his chance … or it was just the most logical spot based on the fact that he had used the LA Series as a landing spot in prior years. Either way … the result was a 6th place finish, 10-lengths from the frontrunning Epicenter. Now, O’Neill is going to pivot, and send his charge to Sunland. I think it is a smart move, and with regular rider Mario Gutierrez aboard, he could come away with the victory and the “Points.” This is what we call a major player … Note, those works of late, are long distance efforts. Hmm … that O’Neill …
#5 Bye Bye Bobby (Jky: R. Chirinos/Trn: T. Fincher):
I have been for this well-bred son of Quality Road since the Zia Park Juvenile $50k. Trainer Todd Fincher broke this colt in for B4 Farms, and he has talent in spades. The white/grey runner is a magnificent horse, and I can see why they wanted him for $870k. Fincher has tried his best to instill some discipline in this wild hare, and if you watch some of his races (i.e. Springboard Mile $400k), you will see what I mean. I still believe that he has yet to run his best race, and once again, it is going to be up to Roimes Chirinos to guide him. This jockey is something special, and I like the way in which he tactically rides this one. The problem is that his mount is prone to unruly behavior, and once he gets that under control, everyone needs to beware. Fincher is a master when it comes to adjustments, and I deeply respect his horsemanship. If Chirinos can leave enough in the tank, I honestly think this runner wins the Sunland.
#6 Pepper Spray (Jky: L. Valenzuela/Trn: E. Kereluk):
Here is another “local” runner that is going to be asked to raise his game even further. Coming into the Mine That Bird Derby $100k, it looked like he had some steam built up after a score in a similar Sunland prep. He did not rate well by the 1st call, and trainer Ed Kereluk watched as he basically ran backwards against that field. The pressure is not going to ease in this spot, and Luis Valenzuela is going to have his work cut out for him. It is hard to see this one even hitting-the-board against what is certainly a much tougher spot.
#7 Chrome King (Jky: E. Garcia/Trn: M. Hernandez):
Trainer Miguel Hernandez is looking to “Shoot the Moon” after a best-out score last time in the Turf Paradise Derby $75k. The son of Munnings posted a better than “good” speed fig in that event, and that should make us think that he has a bright future. His regular pilot is coming to Sunland to take the mount, and Enrique Garcia knows what he has to do … don’t let the leaders get away. Of course, this one could not best Pepper Spray #6 nor Bye Bye Bobby #5 a few races back on the oval in a “Non-G,” so it is hard to believe that he could win against a field like this one. Miracles do happen … and it is going to take one, if Hernandez wants to visit the winner’s circle.
#8 Straight Up G (Jky: R. Gonzalez/Trn: R. Baltas):
The talking head of Jim Rome has become a celebrated Thoroughbred owner, and he has passionately supported this business. With this colt by Straight Fire, he is trying to earn a trip to the Kentucky Derby in May. The last time this 3-yr-old was at Sunland, jockey Ricardo Gonzalez got him to break well. He took the field all-the-way from wire-to-wire … virtually uncontested. Fincher’s entry made a run towards the end, but it wasn’t enough. My real question coming into what is going to be a tougher spot is … what if he doesn’t react well from the start? And for that matter, what if he is challenged early on? I am sure he is going to be a short price once again, but I would not back this one to the hilt. There are too many gifted runners that have entered this time around, and this colt is not going to see a race shape like last time. I think he possibly ends up in-the-money, but will not be on top. Rome might be burning with disappointment when this race is done …
Join us Sunday for all of our selections! Should be a great set of races from Sunland Park! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter … Horseracing_USA !!!