Under quarantine since the cases of EHV-1 were diagnosed in January, Sunland Park is calling off its marquee races, as we know them, on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1).
The Blood-Horse’s Jeremy Balan reports that the Sunland Derby (G3) and Sunland Oaks, each worth 50 points to the respective winners, will not be run. Taking their place on the March 20 card will be a pair of substitute stakes, renamed, and with no points on offer. The Sunland Derby replacement will lose its graded status along with nearly half its purse, reduced from $800,000 to $415,000. Balan further reports that the Sunland Oaks replacement will retain its $200,000 purse.
Although Sunland’s quarantine is projected to end March 9, trainers with Kentucky Derby and Oaks hopefuls were likely already shopping for alternative routes.
Perhaps Fair Grounds might be the biggest beneficiary, given the time frame. The Louisiana Derby (G2) and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) are only six days later on March 26. That figures to suit horsemen inclined to look for relatively easier spots, away from the big guns, and with a similar spacing to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. If horses weren’t early bird nominees to the Louisiana Derby, they can still be added for $1,000 by March 12 – the same date that Fair Grounds Oaks nominations close. As a bonus, the Fair Grounds races are each worth twice as many points as Sunland’s, with 100 points apiece to the winner.
Oaklawn’s Rebel (G2) on March 19 could also work as a fallback position for Derby aspirants, but only if horsemen planned to give their runners two more preps on the way to Louisville. It’s too big a gap, both on the calendar and in distance, from a 1 1/16-mile race in mid-March to 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May. Oaklawn’s next Oaks prep, the Honeybee (G3), is fast approaching on Saturday, so any fillies theoretically contemplating the Sunland Oaks probably wouldn’t shift gears to be ready eight days earlier.
Turfway Park’s preps on April 2 would present a similar opportunity to pad point totals without facing anyone too formidable. The Spiral (G3) and Bourbonette Oaks (G3) are each worth 50 points to the winner. And with the Kentucky Oaks and Derby being May 6-7, horses would still have five weeks’ rest after their final prep. The obvious proviso, however, is if you have a runner who finds Polytrack congenial. If you were banking on Sunland as a soft dirt prep, Turfway might not shape up as your next-best destination. Also, if you didn’t nominate to the Spiral by the March 5 closing, it’s going to cost $25,000 to supplement at entry time.
Gulfstream Park’s April 2 preps are coming up tough, with Nyquist and Mohaymen on course for an epic clash in the Florida Derby (G1), and unbeaten Cathryn Sophia penciled in for the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). If you were looking at Sunland, you’re not exactly eager to step into the ring with the heavyweights.
Of course, some connections may opt to stay home and take a chance against the top contenders on their own circuits. Just thinking out loud here, but I wonder if that’s why Bob Baffert is pitching maiden romper Cupid into Saturday’s San Felipe (G2) against his leading light, Mor Spirit. Cupid might have been the type in past years to head to Sunland.