The Sunland Derby may not award 100 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve series to its winner, but it does own a memorable chapter in the proud history of the run for the roses. For it was in 2009 that Mine That Bird used a fourth-place finish in the Sunland Derby as a springboard to victory on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs – at 50-1 odds, no less. While there’s no telling if there’s another Mine That Bird in the field, there is a starter from Bob Baffert’s barn to heighten interest in this year’s edition.
Racetrack: Sunland Park in Sunland Park, N.M.
Date: March 24
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Post Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Notable winners: Firing Line, who was second behind American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
First held: 2003
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5 to the top four finishers, respectively
1. Mucho Gusto (8-5): He’s probably the No. 4 Kentucky Derby candidate in his barn, but when you are trained by Bob Baffert, that puts you in the top 10 percent of Triple Crown contenders. Landing the rail, with his two biggest rivals for the early lead next to him, wasn’t an ideal draw but the Robert B. Lewis winner has enough tactical speed to sit just off the lead and more than enough class to draw clear in the stretch and give Baffert a record-extending fourth win in the nine-furlong stakes.
JOCKEY: Joe Talamo TRAINER: Bob Baffert
2. Anothertwistafate (3-1): He’s been a tiger since he moved over to Golden Gate Fields and ran on a synthetic surface for the first time. The son of Scat Daddy is 3-for-3 there, winning by a bigger margin each time, and romped by seven lengths in the El Camino Real Derby in his last start. He was beaten 15 lengths in his lone start on dirt at Santa Anita, which came in his career debut. Would expect a better showing than that here, but he’s a risky proposition at the odds.
JOCKEY: Juan Hernandez TRAINER: Blaine Wright
3. Hustle Up (5-1): He will also be part of the early pace and his success at Sunland Park gives him an advantage over the two rivals inside of him. He loves this racetrack, winning all four of his starts here, topped by a length win in the Mine That Bird Derby last month. He put in a sharp work for the race and at a price of 5-1 seems a better investment than Anothertwistafate.
JOCKEY: Shane Laviolette TRAINER: Todd Fincher
4. Wicked Indeed (6-1): Wicked Indeed was the 4-5 favorite in the Mine That Bird but was compromised by a wide trip while rallying for second behind Hustle Up. The added sixteenth of a mile and a lively pace scenario figure to make him a serious stretch threat.
JOCKEY: Luis Contreras TRAINER: Steve Asmussen
5. Cutting Humor (8-1): Made a promising middle move in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn but then faded to seventh in the stretch. Looks like this will be his last chance to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, and if he can run back to his runner-up finish behind Bourbon War in his previous start, he’ll have a big say in the outcome. Having John Velazquez in the saddle is a big plus.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
6. Walker Stalker (15-1): He chased Hustle Up in the Mine That Bird and wound up third at 45-1 odds. He’s never been worse than third in three starts over the track, but the extra distance here will probably work against him.
JOCKEY: Alejandro Medellin TRAINER: Jose R. Gonzalez Jr.
7. Pasamonte Man (20-1): Finished fourth in the Mine That Bird as a maiden and has some late kick that could help him sneak into the superfecta. Wouldn’t ignore him, but a minor share seems the ceiling for him.
JOCKEY: Ken Tohill TRAINER: Joel Marr
8. Collusionist (25-1): Showed brief speed in the Mine That Bird and then wound up sixth. Has lost his two starts after a six-month layoff by a combined total of more than 31 lengths and this third time does not figure to be a charm.
JOCKEY: Alfredo Juarez Jr. TRAINER: O.A. Martinez Jr.
9. Diamond Blitz (15-1): Ships in from Santa Anita where he was fourth behind another of Baffert’s Derby candidates, Roadster. Brings together the Desormeaux brothers in trainer Keith and jockey Kent, but faces a tough task as his early speed and post nine mix like oil and water in this field.
JOCKEY: Kent Desormeaux TRAINER: Keith Desormeaux
10. Eye Cloud (30-1): Showed little when seventh in the Mine That Bird at 59-1 odds and there’s little in his past performances to indicate he’s capable of being competitive from the outside post.
JOCKEY: Isaias Enriquez TRAINER: Tracy Norris
THE PICK: Mucho Gusto
LIVE LONGSHOT: Cutting Humor