By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") @J_Keelerman
Just as the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) is a major milestone on the Derby trail as the "first of the final" Kentucky Derby prep races, the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) is another major milestone as the "Last of the Fifties," or the last of the Derby prep races that award 50 qualification points to the winner. A small but talented field has lined up for this nine-furlong race, led by a two-time graded stakes-placed runner that looks poised to break through at last with a major victory. Let’s take a look at the field!
||2nd Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|Lord Nelson (scratched) |Martin Garcia
||4th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II)|
||Where’s the Moon
||1st Mine That Bird Derby (VIDEO)|
||1st Turf Paradise Derby (VIDEO)|
||1st Allowance (VIDEO)|
||Tiznow R J
||7th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||Pain and Misery
||N. Arroyo, Jr.
||7th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||3rd Mine That Bird Derby (VIDEO)|
With the scratch of Lord Nelson, who will instead be running in the Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) on April 4th, Firing Line looks like a major standout on paper. In his last two starts, Firing Line has lost a pair of graded stakes races to Dortmund by the combined margin of about a neck. In the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), Firing Line led past the eighth pole before getting nailed on the wire by his rival, and in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II), Firing Line led by a length in mid-stretch before Dortmund got up to beat him in the last stride. Of course, there’s no shame in losing to Dortmund—he is one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby!—and the Beyer speed figures that Firing Line earned in his defeats are much higher than those posted by his Sunland Derby rivals. Having drawn the rail, I expect Firing Line to show plenty of speed right from the start, and his recent workouts suggest that he is fit and ready for another huge effort. Even with plenty of other speedy colts in the race, I think Firing Line will prove best and score a convincing victory.
The logical candidates to round out the exotics are Why Two and Tiznow R J, and I like the chances of both. The first-mentioned colt has done little wrong in three starts, breaking his maiden second time out and scoring a gate-to-wire win in the Turf Paradise Derby, and he has earned some very respectable speed figures. Additionally, as he demonstrated in his maiden win, he has the ability to rate off the lead and pounce in the homestretch, which could be very useful if the pace is quick on Sunday. I also like his workout pattern leading up to the Sunland Derby—a half-mile in :47 1/5 on March 5th, seven furlongs in 1:25 2/5 on March 11th, and a blazing three furlongs in :34 3/5 on March 18th.
As for Tiznow R J, he looked like a very promising colt when finishing third in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) after chasing a fast pace, but he regressed significantly when seventh in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) one month later. There was no obvious excuse for his poor showing, but given the good form he has shown in the past, I think there’s a good chance that the switch to a different track with a shorter homestretch could help him rebound at a bit of a price.
If you would like to try and beat Tiznow R J out of the exotics, then you might want to consider Where’s the Moon. He lost his first four starts before breaking his maiden by 6 ¾ lengths going a mile at Sunland, then followed up that effort with a 2 ½-length victory in the Mine That Bird Derby, a local prep for the Sunland Derby. In both of his victories, Where’s the Moon showed the ability to stalk the pace early on, and with stablemate Malibu Mogul likely to ensure a fast pace, I think Where’s the Moon has a good chance to rally from behind and secure a piece of the purse. Still, it is worth noting that his successful late rally in the Mine That Bird Derby was at least in part the result of the front-runners tiring in the final furlong, and he may find his opposition on Sunday a bit tougher to reel in.
Who do you like in the Sunland Derby?
In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Don't forget that from March 23rd to March 27th, you can add three additional horses to your "Road to the Kentucky Derby" contest stable!
Enjoy the racing!