The “Road To The Kentucky Derby” rolls west to New Mexico, Sunday, where nine young Thoroughbreds will go to starting gate in the 12th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) at Sunland Park. Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Derby last year with Govenor Charlie, will send Midnight Hawk, the morning-line 5-2 favorite, and Chitu (4-1) to the post in what appears to be a wide-open horserace.
In February, the two Baffert horses competed in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park where Chitu was a half-length runner up to Candy Boy and outran Midnight Hawk by 1¼-lengths. Since that race, Midnight Hawk ran in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) where he was a 7¼-length runner up to California Chrome and Chitu has been steadily working out at Santa Anita Park.
Leading up to the Lewis Stakes, Chitu fired several bullet work outs. However, since that race his work outs have not been as brilliant. In fact, as my good friend Larry Knepper pointed out to me, three of Chitu’s workouts were on the same day that Midnight Hawk worked and he outperformed Chitu in those works.
I think that Midnight Hawk and Chitu will be competitive in this race and it will be interesting to see which one best handles the stretch out to 9-furlongs.
A long shot I like best in this race is Garen (10-1) who’s stepping up in class for trainer Peter Miller and he comes into the Derby with a 1-0-0 record in three starts. Garen, a half-brother to Invasor, appears to be a young horse who is improving each time he goes to the track.
In his maiden debut on December 28, Garen was beaten by 14-lengths in a 6-furlong sprint at Santa Anita Park. In January at Santa Anita, Garen finished fourth in a 5½-furlong sprint but, this time, he was only two lengths shy of victory. Finally, in February, Garen broke his maiden when Miller stretched him out to 8½-furlongs. Prior to his maiden win, Garen fired a bullet work out and his works since then have steadily improved.
Garen could be getting good at the right time of year and another move forward would make him competitive in the Sunland Derby (G3).
Trainer Todd Pletcher ships Commissioner (7-2) from Florida into the Derby off of a sixth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulstream Park. Commissioner comes into this race with a 2-1-0 record in four starts and he’s already won twice at this 9-furlong distance.
Commissioner picks up blinkers for the first time and if he can return to the form of his previous wins at 9-furlongs he could be competitive in the Sunland Derby (G3).
Honorable mention goes to Rebranded (12-1) who’s another long shot I like in this race. He comes into the Derby with a 1-2-1 record in six starts and in his last race he finished second in the Mine That Bird Derby on February 22.
Trainer Justin Evans fits Rebranded with blinkers for the first time and he has room to improve in his second start as a three year old. Another move forward could make him competitive in the Sunland Derby (G3).
2014 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. We Miss Artie, 60, Todd Pletcher, $544,000
2. Samraat, 60, Rick Violette, Jr., $450,000
3. Hoppertunity, 55, Bob Baffert, $376,000
4. Intense Holiday, 53, Todd Pletcher, $327,500
5. Wildcat Red, 50, Jose Garrofalo, $410,000
6. Ring Weekend, 50, Graham Motion, $210,000
7. California Chrome, 50, Art Sherman, $182,250
8. Tapiture, 42, Steve Asmussen, $420,738
9. Midnight Hawk, 32, Bob Baffert, $144,000
10. Albano, 24, Larry Jones, $150,000
10. Uncle Sigh, 24, Gary Contessa, $150,000
12. Vinceremos, 20, Todd Pletcher, $190,000
13. Vicar’s in Trouble, 20, Mike Maker, $160,000
14. General A Rod, 20, Mike Maker, $140,000
15. Ride On Curlin, 15, Billy Gowan, $154,387
16. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
17. Cairo Prince, 14, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $470,000
18. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
19. Kristo, 14, John Sadler, $56,000
20. Coastline, 13, Mark Casse, $129,679