Keying Peace in the Sunland Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 22nd, 2018

Over the years, Sunland Park in New Mexico has garnered a reputation as a very fast and speed-favoring racetrack, producing quick times and often favoring horses that secure the early lead.

That has certainly been the case for many renewals of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III), a nine-furlong Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race that will be held for the fifteenth time this Sunday.

However, assuming that the track is always speed-favoring can be troublesome for handicappers. Quite to the contrary, on Sunland Derby Day in 2017 there was a distinct bias in favor of outside closers, with speed horses on the rail at a disadvantage; furthermore, a quick review of the last two racing days at Sunland suggests that there was definitely nothing wrong with rallying on the far outside.

If the current track profile remains in play this Sunday (and I recommend that you keep a close eye on the undercard races to confirm), then I think #5 Peace will be the horse to beat. Arguably no horse in the field has kept better company than this Richard Mandella-trained colt, who finished a solid fourth against Kentucky Derby favorites Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita two weeks ago.

Peace rallied from far off the pace in the San Felipe, but he’s shown more versatility in the past, finishing second in a maiden race after racing no more than a length off the pace and subsequently breaking his maiden with a late rally from the middle of the pack. I think he can work out a perfect trip under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, and Mandella has a solid record with horses running back on approximately two weeks of rest. The subtle drop in class from the San Felipe to the Sunland Derby might be all Peace needs to deliver a winning effort.

In the event that the track comes up fast and speed-favoring, #1 All Out Blitz could be a danger on the rail. Trained by Simon Callaghan, who won the 2015 Sunland Derby with Firing Line, All Out Blitz finished second behind McKinzie in the one-mile Sham Stakes (gr. III) and subsequently ran third in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) after chasing a very fast pace. Even without aid from the track, All Out Blitz has the speed to be a contender.

Others that I respect are #6 Shane Zane, who had a troubled trip when fifth in an Oaklawn allowance race last time out; #7 Prince Lucky, a stakes winner at Parx last year making his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher; and #11 Runaway Ghost, second in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland last time out. I'll use these four along with Peace in various combinations of the exacta and trifecta:

$10 to win on #5 Peace $2 exacta: 5 with 1,6,7,11 ($8) $2 exacta: 1,6,7,11 with 5 ($8) $0.50 trifecta: 1,5 with 1,5,6,7,11 with 1,5,6,7,11 ($12)

Good luck!