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
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.
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
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 www.theturfboard.com.