Will a Maiden Win the Mine That Bird Derby?

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

It's a quiet weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which means we can turn our attention to a smaller stakes race at Sunland Park.

The $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby might not offer qualification points toward the Kentucky Derby, but the 1 1/16-mile race does serve as a local steppingstone toward the Mar. 22 Sunland Derby (G3). A handful of Triple Crown-nominated youngsters have been entered in the Mine That Bird Derby, so let's take a horse-by-horse look at the field and see if we can't come up with the winner:

#1 Top Draw (6-1): Former Todd Pletcher trainee scored his lone win sprinting six furlongs at Zia Park, a hard-fought victory that produced a 48 Beyer speed figure. Subsequent efforts against tougher company have been a bit less inspiring; his first start around two turns produced a fourth-place finish in the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland, beaten eight lengths. A son of Into Mischief, Top Draw is conditioned by high-percentage trainer Miguel Hernandez, but looks like a longshot to crack the exotics on Sunday.

#2 Stackin Silver (3-1): Stoutly-bred son of Union Rags is 2-for-2 since stretching out in distance, winning a $50,000 maiden claiming event at Del Mar by 5 1/4 lengths before claiming an allowance race at Santa Anita by a similar margin. Stackin Silver has plenty of tactical speed and figures to set the pace while breaking from the rail, but this could be problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, Stackin Silver will almost certainly face face pressure from Sir Rick and Tappin Fora Dance. For another, outside runners tend to have an advantage at Sunland, so Stackin Silver could find himself in a tough spot racing inside. He still warrants respect while shipping in from California, but I'll use him underneath rather than on top.

#3 Exaulted (7-2): It's not every day one feels compelled to play a maiden running in a stakes race, but I believe Exaulted is the best horse in the Mine That Bird Derby field. Trained by Peter Eurton, Exaulted broke slowly in his debut sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita last month, but rallied smoothly up the inside under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to finish second. Exaulted was no match for the winner, but hey, the winner was Nadal, an early Kentucky Derby favorite who came right back to win the San Vicente (G2).

Even in defeat, Exaulted earned big Beyer and Brisnet speed figures that stamp him as the horse to beat in the Mine That Bird Derby. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles is a question mark, but Exaulted's sire Twirling Candy is responsible for plenty of long-winded runners, including Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Gift Box and Belmont Oaks (G1) winner Concrete Rose. Exaulted figures to sit a perfect trip off the speed before rallying in the stretch, and take note, Mike Smith is making a rare trip to Sunland to retain the mount. To me, this suggests Exaulted is a highly-regarded colt with a bright future. He's my clear choice to win.

#4 Sir Rick (2-1): Formerly trained by Steve Asmussen, 2-1 morning line favorite Sir Rick is thoroughly familiar with the winner's circle, having emerged victorious in three of his five starts. But two of those victories came in five-furlong sprints, and while Sir Rick successfully stretched out to a mile at Sam Houston last month—leading all the way to win an allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths with a 70 Beyer—he benefited from securing an uncontested lead over a wet track. Sir Rick is 2-for-2 on off going, and his ability on dry footing might be better reflected by his third-place effort two starts back in the 1-mile Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. Perhaps new trainer Robertino Diodoro can build on the momentum Sir Rick generated under the care of Asmussen, but I'm hesitant to back this colt since he's lining up against two serious pace rivals.

#5 Tappin Fora Dance (10-1): Led all the way to win his debut sprinting six furlongs at Sunland last month, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths with a 66 Beyer. A son of Tapiture, Tappin Fora Dance is relatively untested for two-time Mine That Bird Derby-winning trainer Joel Marr, but he's also stretching out 2 1/2 furlongs in distance and figures to engage Stackin Silver and Sir Rick in potentially destructive battle for early supremacy. On the bright side, Tappin Fora Dance Marr has drawn outside his main pace rivals—a favorable setup at Sunland—and Marr strikes at a 22% rate with last-out maiden winners. Consider using Tappin Fora Dance in the trifecta and superfecta.

#6 Jungle Runner (4-1): Winner of the 7-furlong Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park, Jungle Runner seems to have reached a plateau in terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures, but that's not necessarily his fault. He's been competing against tougher company on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and was compromised by a slow pace and a speed-favoring track when finishing eighth in the Smarty Jones Stakes last month. The Mine That Bird Derby is an easier spot, and trainer Steve Asmussen (who has won this race six times since 2001) will equip Jungle Runner with blinkers on Sunday, which should help the colt stay more involved early on. As a son of Candy Ride out of a Tapit mare, Jungle Runner is bred to improve with maturity, so I'm optimistic the drop in class will help Jungle Runner find his best stride.


1. Exaulted (7-2)
2. Jungle Runner (4-1)
3. Stackin Silver (3-1)

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Mine That Bird 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.

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