Runaway Ghost Stands Out in Mine That Bird Derby

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Although there aren't any official Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races scheduled for this weekend, racing fans are advised to keep an eye on Sunday's $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park, a race that could potentially produce a Kentucky Derby candidate or two.

The 8.5-furlong race serves as a local prep for the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) on March 25th, and as a result it's attracted some of the best local colts as well as a shipper from out of state.

Though it wouldn't be a surprise to see the odds shift in the actual wagering, the morning line favorite at 5-2 is Reride, a well-bred son of Candy Ride trained by Steve Asmussen. Reride has shown remarkable versatility while winning three of his first four starts, recording victories in a maiden race going 4 ½ furlongs on dirt at Churchill Downs, an allowance race going a mile on soft turf at Keeneland, and the Big Drama stakes going seven furlongs over the bullring dirt track at Delta Downs.

Reride's only defeat came in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) last fall, in which he tracked the pace while racing wide, bid for the lead around the turn, and then tired late to finish sixth. Overall it wasn't a bad effort, and while Reride was all out to prevail in the Big Drama Stakes on January 13th, he deserves some credit for posting a respectable winning time while racing over an unfamiliar and tricky track that some horses simply don't care for.

That said, even if Reride handles the added distance of the Mine That Bird Derby, he'll surely face a stiff challenge from Runaway Ghost, who could very well be the wagering favorite come post time. The son of Ghostzapper has shown flashes of brilliance during his brief career, but it was his victory in the one-mile Riley Allison Stakes at Sunland last month that really caught my eye. Breaking from the rail, Runaway Ghost went to the lead and withstood multiple challenges throughout the race before drawing off under a hand ride in the homestretch to prevail by 7 ¾ lengths, running the final quarter-mile in a quick :23.94 and recording a final time of 1:36.02.

There's very little speed in the Mine That Bird Derby, so Runaway Ghost should be poised to work out a perfect trip setting or stalking a slow pace. Throw in the fact that he's already proven over the track, and I think he'll be very difficult to beat.

A bit of a wildcard in the Mine That Bird Derby is Trigger Warning. He's shown talent sprinting on the New Mexico circuit, and while he was soundly beaten in his lone run going two turns, that race was a competitive renewal of the one-mile and 70-yard Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds, in which he was eased after a wide trip at odds of 160-1. I don't think he can be viewed as a sprinter off one poor performance in a quality race, and the easier competition at Sunland should help his chances. He certainly looked good winning a 6 ½-furlong allowance race at Sunland on February 13th, setting the pace and pulling away to win by 7 ¼ lengths.

Beautiful Game should also have a chance to finish in the exotics after finishing a distant second in the Riley Allison Stakes, his first run at Sunland Park. Like Reride, he is trained by Steve Asmussen and has been very consistent thus far, cracking the trifecta in six of his seven starts while recording three victories.

In essence, it appears that the Mine That Bird Derby could produce fairly chalky results, but I do have a strong preference for Runaway Ghost as the most likely winner and view him as a horse to key on top of the exotics and single in multi-race wagers.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Sunland Derby?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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