Firing Line (Line of David) has been installed as the 8-5 favorite in Sunday’s $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3), which is the final race in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series to award points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four. The scale is bumped up to 100-40-20-10 beginning with the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) on March 28.
Firing Line is finally getting a race away from the unbeaten Dortmund (Big Brown), to whom he ran second by a head in his past pair.
Originally, he would have had to face Grade 2 victor Lord Nelson (Pulpit) in the nine-furlong Derby at Sunland Park, but the Bob Baffert-trained stablemate to Dortmund will scratch out of the race.
FREE BRISNET PPS: Sunland Derby
“He just ran and I entered him to see if he would bounce back, but he’s…not quite as sharp as I’d want him to be,” Baffert explained while declining to say what might be next for his chestnut charge.
Britney Eurton tweeted out earlier in the day that Lord Nelson could show up in either the $300,000 Bay Shore S. (G3) at Aqueduct on April 4 or Keeneland’s $250,000 Lexington S. (G3) on April 11.
As for Firing Line, he first met up with Dortmund — one of Baffert’s top three-year-old prospects — in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) in late December, then again in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) on February 7. On each occasion, Firing Line found himself collared late by his chestnut foe in those 1 1/16-mile contests.
This time around the Simon Callaghan-trained bay will be stretching out to 1 1/8 miles and gets Gary Stevens back in the saddle.
Shipping in from Louisiana for the Sunland Derby is Tiznow R J (Tiznow), who broke his maiden by 13 lengths at Fair Grounds in mid-December. The Steven Asmussen charge made his three-year-old, and stakes, bow a nice third-place run in the Lecomte S. (G3), but weakened to finish seventh in the Risen Star S. (G2) last out. The change in venue could reinvigorate Tiznow R J, who brings Robby Albarado along for the ride.
Where’s the Moon (Malibu Moon) is the local hope after taking the February 21 Mine That Bird Derby over the track. Prior to that the chestnut gelding was a 6 3/4-length maiden winner while making his first start for new trainer Henry Dominguez. Luis Contreras will be in the saddle for the first time as Where’s the Moon attempts to keep his record perfect for his new shedrow.
Dirt Monster (Line of David) and Malibu Mogul (Malibu Moon) also have made their last few starts at Sunland Park. The former was runner-up against allowance rivals before finishing third in both the Riley Allison S. and Mine That Bird Derby. Malibu Mogul was transferred to Dominguez and, just like Where’s the Moon, immediately posted a 9 1/2-length maiden win prior to take an allowance over the track.
Why Two (Bob and John) also brings a Derby win into Sunland after scoring in his stakes debut, the Turf Paradise Derby, on February 21. The Michael Machowsky-conditioned chestnut takes a step up against these rivals but does get Victor Espinoza back in the irons. Pain and Misery (Bob and John) completes the field off a seventh-placing in the San Felipe S. (G2) for trainer Richard Mandella. Originally conditioned by Dominguez to start his career, the dark bay gelding will be saddled by that latter trainer in Sunday’s race.
The Sunland Derby is the main event at Sunland Park on Sunday, but does share the card with some nice undercard races as well. Chief among those is the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, which is the same as the Derby in that it’s the final 50-20-10-5 race to award points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. The Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) will begin the 100-40-20-10 points scale on March 28.
Lining up to take advantage of the Sunland Park Oaks points will be eight sophomore fillies, including last-out Las Virgenes S. (G1) heroine Callback (Street Sense). That Baffert trainee was made the even-money favorite on the morning-line and will be joined in the starting gate by stablemate Maybellene (Lookin at Lucky), who ran eighth in the Las Virgenes after closing out her juvenile campaign with a close third in the Starlet S. (G1). Garcia will be aboard Callback and Espinoza has the mount on Maybellene.
Also entered in the Sunland Park Oaks is three of the top four finishers from the Island Fashion S. Suva Harbor (Rockport Harbor) won that one-mile local prep by 2 3/4 lengths over Rousanne (Desert Party), but was disqualified to eighth and last for bearing out on the first turn. That elevated Rousanne to first and fourth-placer We Need Art (Sky Mesa) to third. All three line back up here.
Dominguez will saddle a pair of last-out maiden winners in Fancy and Flashy (Zensational) and Scat Means Go (Scat Daddy), while Babes Cylver Slew (Old Fashioned) rounds out the field.
Isn’t He Clever, runner-up in the 2012 Sunland Derby and a 9 1/2-length winner of last season’s Sunland Park H., will take on seven while going 6 1/2 furlongs in the $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial S. earlier on Sunday’s card, while a field of eight distaffers has been entered to go a mile in the $100,000 Harry Henson H., which is sandwiched between the Derby and Oaks.
The other three stakes on the day — the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby, $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks and $85,000 La Coneja S. — are all restricted to New Mexico-breds.