Baffert pair tough to oppose Sunday at Sunland

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

March 19th, 2016

When faced with 12 three-year-olds entered in Sunday's $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing, which will be run in place of the canceled Sunland Derby (G3), one would generally hope to find a contender at a price to back.

However, the more I look at the race, the more terribly unimaginative I feel like being. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is a three-time winner of the Sunland Derby, and clearly has the horse to beat in this nine-furlong substitute -- Collected (#8, 5-2).

True, a son of City Zip and a Johannesburg mare doesn't exactly scream 1 1/8 miles, but Collected is relatively well-accomplished already with a victory two back in the one-mile Sham (G3) at Santa Anita. Earning an 89 BRIS Speed rating for that performance, he wasn't quite as effective last time in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn, finishing fourth as the 5-2 choice. However, his BRIS Speed rating only declined one point against a tougher field.

If you're going to oppose Collected, Gettysburg is an obvious alternative. Though not as far along as Collected, he has won at the distance and seemingly has more upside than what he showed when disappointing as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Doug O'Neill-trained Found Money, fourth in the Sham, seems fairly well-exposed after eight starts, and none of the locally-based runners appear fast enough to fend off the shippers. Collected is the pick.

The $200,000 Plum Pretty, the substitute for the Sunland Park Oaks, also looks like another potential win for Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia. Family Tree (#1, 2-1) makes her debut for Baffert after a solid juvenile campaign when under the tutelage of Wayne Catalano. A debut winner on turf, she later finished two lengths off Stageplay in the $84,000 Rags to Riches at Churchill Downs, and also occupied the show slot in the $100,000 Trapeze at Remington Park.

Though she hasn't raced since mid-December, Family Tree's main rivals also haven't been out in awhile. Morning line favorite Thrilled was last seen running second in a slow renewal of the Demoiselle (G2) and might arguably be better on turf. The O'Neill trained Where's the D should fare best in fast conditions and has some early speed, but is still somewhat of an unknown in stakes company (she was virtually eased in the Frizette [G1], hardly a representative effort).

Sunland-based K P Wildcat, who has won her three starts by a combined 22 3/4 lengths, exits a facile win in the $75,000 Island Fashion. If one of the locals is to win either of the two richest races on Sunday's card, I'd give her the best shot.

Family Tree has a touch more class and is the selection.