Handicappers are in for a treat this Sunday when Sunland Park in New Mexico hosts the $800,000, Grade 3 Sunland Derby, a 1 1/8-mile prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
The race has drawn a full field of 12, including horses that last raced at Santa Anita, Oaklawn Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Fair Grounds, Golden Gate Fields, Sunland Park, and Turf Paradise.
With this unusual blend of horses shipping in from all over the country, the Sunland Derby lacks a clear favorite and should be a great betting race.
In going over the field, I’m drawn to Peace (#5), who has kept better company than the majority of his Sunland Derby opponents. Trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, the gray colt finished second in his first two starts in California while competing against the future stakes winners Mourinho and Instilled Regard, then broke through with a late-running maiden win going a mile and a sixteenth at Santa Anita.
Peace then stepped up in class for the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and while he finished a distant fifth on that occasion, jockey Mike Smith noted after the race that Peace seemed distracted by racing with blinkers. Mandella removed the headgear for the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 10 and Peace responded with a much-improved run, finishing fourth against a tough field that featured Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie, two of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.
Peace should find the competition considerably easier in the Sunland Derby, and if the track is playing in favor of outside closers like it was for the 2017 Sunland Derby, Peace could be poised to work out an ideal trip as well. At anywhere near his 12-1 morning line odds, I think he’s worth a play.
Other horses that I’ll consider are All Out Blitz (#1), who ran second in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes behind McKinzie before tiring to third in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes after chasing a fast pace; Shane Zain (#6), who suffered a slow start and poor trip on a biased track when fifth in an allowance race at Oaklawn last time out; Prince Lucky (#7), who makes his debut for trainer Todd Pletcher following a better-than-it-looked seventh-place effort in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds; and Runaway Ghost (#11), a strong second in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland last month.
Here’s how I would play the race:
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$8 to win on #5 Peace ($8)
$1 exacta: 1,5,7 with 1,5,6,7,11 ($12)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!