The following piece is jointly submitted for Thorofan's "Handicapper's Corner".
As someone who composes ballots for the Wireplayers Derby Dozen, I’m asked to look at the three-year-old races on a weekly basis, try to digest what happened, and make a sensible ballot. Throughout this three-year-old season, the horses involved have been uninspiring in these eyes.
Perhaps moving the races to nine furlongs and beyond will separate the contenders from the pretenders. One of them is the Sunland Derby, set for Sunday March 23. At nine furlongs on the dirt, the race race will be run for the twelfth time this year. Past winners include future graded stakes winners Thor’s Echo and Daddy’s Nose Best. The race is better known for its 2009 running when Mine That Bird was fourth, then won the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds; a story so improbable it just begged to be made into a movie - which it was and is in current release (entitled "50-1") at the time of this piece.
Per an in-house press release, here is the field for the Sunland Derby: Read left to right with post position, assigned rider, weight, and morning line odds.
Bourbonize (Ramon Vasquez 122) 6-1.
Garen (Victor Espinoza 122) 10-1.
Commissioner (John Velazquez 122) 7-2.
Global Strike (Javier Castellano 122) 8-1.
Tanzanite Cat (Norberto Arroyo 122) 6-1.
Lawly’s Goal (Irwin Rosendo 122) 20-1.
Midnight Hawk (Mike Smith 122) 5-2.
Rebranded (Ry Eikleberry 122) 12-1.
Chitu (Martin Garcia 122) 4-1
Sunland Park -- G3 Sunland Derby -- 1 ⅛ miles on dirt -- post time 6:40 pm CT
Although the author hails from Chicago and will be interested in the doings of morning line favorite MIDNIGHT HAWK (part owned by Chicago Blackhawks Coach Quenneville), the San Felipe exposed him as a horse dubious beyond a mile or a mile and a sixteenth. Plus he’s a horse with thirty-four points in the (don't get me started) Kentucky Derby points system, which means he likely has a spot in the gate if he wants to be there. I think he’s worth taking a swing against.
Let’s try instead COMMISSIONER, whose figure pattern was not altered drastically when sixth in the G2 Fountain of Youth. The aforementioned Gulfstream race was contested on a speed favoring track at a speed-favoring distance, doubly against his off-the-pace style. With speed in here from TANZANITE CAT, CHITU, and MIDNIGHT HAWK, he’ll get his set up. Trainer Todd Pletcher has never won this race before, but he’s scrawled his name of the trophies of many other three-year-old races. Being by A.P. Indy out of a Touch Gold mare is a plus in the pedigree department.
Oaklawn Park tends to have a big say in the Spring and Summer races. BOURBONIZE passed last week’s G2 Rebel Stakes to come here. Sixth in the G3 Southwest but a winner two back in his first time around two turns, he showed an ability to rally off the pace in the one-mile race at Oaklawn on a short stretch. There was obvious traffic trouble (noted in the comments) for him, so perhaps he didn’t get the chance to make his run in the Southwest. The top three in the Southwest just came back to grab second through fourth place checks in the G2 Rebel. Trainer Gorder put a bullet workout into this one before leaving Oaklawn.
Southern California horses do well in this event, and it is possible that the Sunland dirt could be tweaked (read: sped up for track records and creating an unnecessary speed bias) like last year. We’ll try the “other” Baffert, CHITU, who was second to Candy Boy last time in the G2 Lewis Stakes. CHITU makes his second start around two turns. The Garcia/Baffert team won this race last year, and trainer Baffert is seeking his third Sunland Derby. He’s going to be the speed of the speed from the outside box, the question is if he go nine furlongs without a free ride.
#3 COMMISSIONER (7/2)
#1 BOURBONIZE (6/1)
#9 CHITU (4/1)
Longshot: Let’s keep the theme of one-word named horses going and take a local. Sometimes on a track’s big day, the local horses who has run quite credibly gets sent off at overlaid odds while the out-of-town big names take all the money. #8 REBRANDED (12/1) was second in the local prep, the Mine That Bird Derby and won the Allison Futurity after coming from the east. Maybe the new setting worked, but so did taking the horse off the pace. And if all the speed horses decide to mix it up early -- the ones who set up our top choice COMMISSIONER -- then this one could get the set up too.
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