Sunland Derby a Success Story

When the nominations were received for the Sunland Derby, to be run March 28 at Sunland Park in New Mexico, there were some impressive names on the list. And for good reason.

For one thing, the race is worth $800,000, making it the second richest prep race in North America (the Arkansas Derby, gr. I, is worth $1 million) for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But more importantly—in this case there actually is something more important than the large purse—is that the race is graded for the first time in 2010.

That fact is important because the Derby starting gate is limited to 20 starters, and the determining factor for who starts and who doesn’t if more than 20 are entered is earnings in graded stakes.

There were 130 nominations received so far—there is still a late nomination deadline—and names like champion Lookin At Lucky, unbeaten Caracortado, and multiple graded stakes winner Rule are on the list.

Caracortado is trained by Mike Machowsky, who won the race last year with Kelly Leak. Of course finishing fourth was Mine That Bird, who went on to win the Derby. Bob Baffert sent out Mythical Power to run second, the third-place finisher was trained by Doug O’Neill, and the fifth- and sixth-place finishers were trained by Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, respectively.

Last year they were running for the money; this year they will run for the money and the grade.

There are thanks due to many for Sunland hosting a major Kentucky Derby prep that is now graded:

• WinStar Farm, which sponsored the race when it began in 2003 with a $500,000 purse. That purse helped attract the horses that helped the race get graded eight years later.

• Track owner Stan Fulton, who knows a thing or two about slot machines, which were approved for New Mexico tracks in 1999. Sunland now has 700 machines operating 365 days a year.

• The politicians in Texas, which like those in Kentucky have been unwilling to help the Thoroughbred industry get on a level playing field with its neighboring states. Sunland is basically a suburb of El Paso, Texas. The slots at Sunland are the reason the track’s average daily purses have risen to $250,000 a day. Last year on Sunland Derby day, the track recorded its largest handle ($2,690,130) on its live card in the 50-year history of the facility.

• Dr. Leonard Blach and Mark Allen, who purchased Mine That Bird and had trainer Chip Woolley point him toward the Sunland Derby. Forget that he didn’t win that race. He vanned from there and won the big race at Churchill Downs, putting his name in the history books.

There aren’t that many success stories these days in racing.

The Sunland Derby is one.


Leave a Comment:

The Usual

from top to flight facilities, top flight staff and now the graded $$. Nice weather and DIRT too!

25 Feb 2010 4:14 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

Might be worth a trip.

26 Feb 2010 10:53 AM

I used to live in Las Cruces, N.M. and went to Sunland Park when it was not connected to slots and the purses were modest, much like Turf Paradise. The casino changed everything. In addition, New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson has encouraged the racing industry in his state and the industry has blossomed, growing into a billion plus venture. I'll be at the Sunland Derby this year, largely because it is a graded stakes. But, it's too bad there aren't more success stories like this one. Lawmakers who resist the racing industry are just shooting themselves in the foot.  

26 Feb 2010 10:57 AM
Michael Cusortelli

We in New Mexico are very pleased that we finally got a graded Thoroughbred race. This year's Sunland Derby should be bigger and better than ever!

26 Feb 2010 11:07 AM

I was in the area and stopped by Sunland last month. It was a nice place and to my surprise, it was filled with people actually playing the horses.  Too bad for me it seemed to be favorites day. But the Tecates were on sale and the tacos were a great deal for the money. I wish them all the best.

26 Feb 2010 4:19 PM
Zenyatta Fan

The Sunland Derby will be worth the trip. Cause it can have unnoticed horses come out of the blue and win. I will be glad to watch it.

26 Feb 2010 5:09 PM
Mike S.

I encourage everybody to come out to Sunland Park,New Mexico it is an awesome place for racing and the weather is great.You have to see it for yourself.

26 Feb 2010 5:25 PM

Great to see a track promote the sport of thoroughbred racing. All states need step up and due their part to help a distressed industry.

Made my first wager in 1953 and fell in love with racing. Been watching it slowly die on the vine the last 20/25 years

26 Feb 2010 6:15 PM
John T

I was pleased to see the Sunland  Derby finally become a graded stakes race.It is almost obscene with the purse money of the race that it took so long.Perhaps Mine That Bird coming out of the race last year to win the Kentucky Derby had a lot to do with it.

26 Feb 2010 8:15 PM

I couldn't have been happier when the Sunland Derby reached graded status. It had been hinting around for years when it was called the Winstar Derby that it needed to be graded. I was surprised when Thor's Echo won it in 2005 and then went onto win the Breeders Cup Sprint and Sprinter  of the Year that they didn't grade it then. And in this time of wonder mares it would also be nice if its female equivalent, the Sunland Oaks, got some notice too. Its winners include Island Fashion (2003), Tough Tiz's Sis (2007)and Gaby's Golden Gal (2009).

26 Feb 2010 10:26 PM
John Boudreau

This Years Derby it Shapping up to be a Real Doozzy>>>Good Luck

28 Feb 2010 7:54 AM
Warren Eves

Good to see the track where I used to be the publicity director has moved forward.  The fact Mine That Bird made so much noise last year is a huge plus.  A good freind of mind races lives in New Mexico and he attends Ruidoso Downs.  The fact that the purse is $800,000 is surely to draw a crowd.  I keep keep track of the Derby colts all the way on  If you get a chance check the site out.  We're not your common phony tout service.  I never give out any horse I don't wager on myself.  There are a number of colts who are going to need a big payday to make the May 1 dance in Kentucky. It's sure good to see Sunland Park doing so well.  We need something positive in this business.

28 Feb 2010 7:15 PM

I see the Sunland Derby and it's purse going the way of the Ohio Derby in a few years after the shock of last years KY. Derby wears off.

Unless Baffert and some of the other more accomplished California Trainers start sending their first line horses who are legitimate Derby threats it's going to happen. With SA hopefully going back to dirt and rectifying the worst mistake they ever made installing the fake crap that is very unlikely.

Are any of the top ranked 3yr olds even slated to show up this year for the Sunland Derby? You can't count on a fluke and bad weather every year to carry lesser horses in the Derby. Just throwing money out there may not work to get top talent in as trainers have better options to test the mettle of those they hope have Derby potential.

02 Mar 2010 8:56 AM
Zenyatta"s awsome

I've been to Sunland Track it is a great clean track to bet at and see live races at

13 Mar 2010 10:38 PM
erin heather

I hope the track site at Moriarity, New Mexico will be re-considered for a new track. It's a beautiful area just east of Albuquerque.

28 Mar 2010 8:39 AM

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