How to Bet the Sunland Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 19th, 2019

There’s certainly no shortage of early speed entered in the March 24 Sunland Derby (gr. III) at Sunland Park, which could potentially make things tricky for the two morning line favorites in this Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.

Those two would be #1 Mucho Gusto and #2 Anothertwistafate, who are shipping in from California with an eye on taking down the winner’s share of this $800,000 purse. Anothertwistafate has won three straight races in gate-to-wire fashion over the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields, including a seven-length romp in the El Camino Real Derby. Mucho Gusto has likewise put his early speed to good use, with a gate-to-wire win in the Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) and a runner-up effort in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) among his front-running performances.

Likewise, the consistent #3 Hustle Up has won eight of his ten starts to date while racing on the front end, including a victory in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland last month, and the Santa Anita maiden winner #9 Diamond Blitz has been the pacesetter in his last four starts.

As a result, the Sunland Derby figures to feature a heated run to the first turn. There will be no easy lead for anyone here, which could be particularly problematic for Anothertwistafate, who hasn’t run a half-mile faster than :49 flat in his three victories at Golden Gate Fields. At least Mucho Gusto showed the ability to rate behind the leaders when prevailing in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita last month, and employing those stalking tactics again could potentially secure this son of Mucho Macho Man a perfect trip. The only challenging part will be getting off the rail and into the clear on the outside, but if Anothertwistafate and Hustle Up are fast into stride as expected, an opening should present itself.

Still, there won’t be much value in backing Mucho Gusto since he hails from the high-profile barn of trainer Bob Baffert, who has won this race (or its equivalent) three times since 2013. And while Sunland Park has a reputation for being a fast, speed-favoring track that plays kindly toward California shippers, it’s becoming more common to see a slower track with a dead rail on Sunland Derby day, and the last two editions of this race were actually dominated by late runners.

With that in mind, it might be worth taking a look at #5 Cutting Humor. Trained by Todd Pletcher, this late-running colt ran well when second behind Bourbon War (subsequent runner-up in the Fountain of Youth Stakes) in a January allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Cutting Humor was then favored to win the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, but had to take up in traffic during a rough run into the first turn, after which he made a big mid-race move to challenge for the lead. A wide trip resulted, and while he understandably faded down the homestretch, he wasn’t asked for much and was beaten less than nine lengths, so it’s not like he was disgraced.
I suspect that Cutting Humor will step up his game in the Sunland Derby, and if the pace is hot as expected, he could be the main beneficiary. I’ll make him my key horse in the trifecta, mixing and matching him with the favorites:

$2.50 trifecta: 5 with 1,2 with 1,2,4 ($10) $2.50 trifecta: 1,2 with 5 with 1,2,4 ($10) $2.50 trifecta: 1,2 with 1,2,4 with 5 ($10)

Good luck!