Collected among dozen in Sunland Derby substitute

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

March 15th, 2016

An outbreak of EHV-1 (Equine herpesvirus) over the winter forced a cessation of racing at Sunland Park for a month, and the fallout from the cancellations prompted track officials earlier this month to cancel both the Sunland Derby (G3) and Sunland Park Oaks for this year.

Points scoring preps for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), both races were originally scheduled to be run this Sunday. Instead, substitute races for the Sunland Derby and Sunland Park Oaks, neither of which offer points, will highlight the track's most lucrative program of the meet.

The Derby substitute, christened the Sunland Park Festival of Racing, will carry a purse of $415,000, nearly half the purse originally allocated to the canceled Grade 3 event. The good news for Sunland is that several of the nation's most prominent horsemen will participate in the 1 1/8-mile event.

Bob Baffert, who's won the Sunland Derby three times, has entered Sham (G3) winner Collected. The 5-2 morning line favorite and one of four Triple Crown nominees in the field of 12, he seeks to rebound off a fourth-place effort in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn. Favored in that one, Collected was two lengths off the lead after six furlongs but offered no kick in the stretch.

Gettysburg, from the barn of Todd Pletcher, also looks to rebound off a defeat as the favorite in a classic prep. The 8-5 choice in the February 13 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs off a 4 1/2-length maiden score at Gulfstream, the Pioneerof the Nile colt rated inside but lost ground on the turn en route to a fifth-place finish.

Doug O'Neill, who trained two of the first three winners of the Sunland Derby, saddles Found Money, a two-time stakes winner who has struggled in graded company of late. Most recently, Found Money weakened to fourth in the January 9 Sham at Santa Anita after pressing the pace.

The top three finishers from the $100,000 Mine That Bird at Sunland, including four-length winner Concord Fast, are back to protect the home turf. Runner-up Cowboy Cool and third-placer Deputy's Echo will be longshots to upend the invaders.

Also lining up is the Steve Asmussen-trained Walk Out, who found a step down in class from Oaklawn to Sam Houston agreeable when taking a February 29 allowance at the latter track by four lengths while sporting blinkers for the first time.

Baffert, Pletcher, and O'Neill also have fillies for the $200,000 Plum Pretty, the Oaks substitute run at 1 1/16 miles. Family Tree, multiple stakes-placed with former trainer Wayne Catalano, runs under Baffert's name for the first time, while Pletcher starts 7-5 morning line favorite Thrilled, who is graded placed on dirt and turf.

Meanwhile, O'Neill will be represented by Where's the D, a maiden winner at Del Mar last summer who was virtually eased in the Frizette (G1) at Belmont in October. All three of the above mentioned race with blinkers on Sunday.

Leading the local contingent is K P Wildcat, who has won all three of her starts, including the $75,000 Island Fashion, by a combined margin of 22 3/4 lengths.

The other open stakes on the program are the $100,000 Harry Henson H., a one-mile test for fillies and mares, and the $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial, a 6 1/2-furlong dash for older horses.

(Benoit Photo)