There was no question who the best horse was at Sunland Park late Sunday afternoon.
Racing wide and outside almost all the way around in the $800,000, Grade 3 Sunland Derby, Joe Peacock's Runaway Ghost powered away in the stretch to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
The Ghostzapper colt separated himself from the rest of an overmatched 12-horse field. Making a four-wide move under jockey Tracy Hebert in the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile test, Runaway Ghost hit the front and was never challenged thereafter en route to a 2 ¾-length victory.
The only other horse who made a significant run in the stretch was deep closer Dream Baby Dream, who rallied from 11th, but the 16.30-1 longshot was no match for the winner. Runaway Ghost, who went off as the 3.90-1 favorite off a second-place run in the Mine That Bird Derby Feb. 25, finished up 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.20. Dream Baby Dream hit the wire six lengths clear of Peace in third.
"We had a long run to the first turn, and I figured we might be a little wide, but that would be better than a horse laying on us – forcing us to the front or forcing our hand," said winning trainer Todd Fincher. "We wanted the horse to just run his own race, and it worked out perfectly. He was actually farther back in the early stages than I thought, but credit to the jockey. He did a great job."
Seven Trumpets closed from ninth to finish fourth, followed by Dark Vader, Choo Choo, Shane Zain, All Out Blitz, Prince Lucky, New York Central, Hollywood Star, and Fortified Effort.
The win brought 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby, and Runaway Ghost's connections were already thinking about a trip to Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May.
"I'd go (to the Derby) as fast as I could," Peacock said.
"We'll see how he comes back from this race," Fincher added. "We'll evaluate it. We all want to go to the Derby. Who doesn't want to? But we'll put the horse first and let him tell us what he wants to do."
A Peacock homebred, Runaway Ghost began his racing career in Southern California, where he broke his maiden in June of 2017 on second asking for trainer Mike Machowsky at Santa Anita Park. He earned his first stakes win in the Golden Nugget Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in November, and then capped his 2-year-old season with a last-place finish in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity.
Moved to Fincher for his 3-year-old campaign, Runaway Ghost took the Jan. 28 Riley Allison Stakes by 7 ¾ lengths at Sunland Park in his season debut and then finished second to Reride in the Mine That Bird Derby. He now has a 4-2-0 record from seven starts and $563,510 in earnings.