A change in tactics and the addition of blinkers provided the winning formula March 27 for Reddam Racing's Slow Down Andy in the $500,000, Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby at Sunland Park.
The California-bred son of Nyquist was entering the Sunland Park Derby off a discouraging sixth-place effort in the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds in his sophomore debut. In the Risen Star, jockey Mario Gutierrez admitted he wrangled down Slow Down Andy a little too much early on in the race, and the headstrong chestnut colt lacked the closing punch he had shown as a 2-year-old when capturing the Los Alamitos Futurity in December.
But in the Sunland Park Derby, Slow Down Andy showed improved focus and determination, sitting just off of a fast early pace and then having enough stamina late to hold off locally-based Bye Bye Bobby by a half-length, earning 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 7.
Bet down as the 6-5 favorite in the field of eight, Slow Down Andy and the speedy Straight Up G took command in the first 50 yards, locking horns as they zipped through an opening quarter in :22.30. Jungle Racing's Straight Up G, the front-running victor of the Mine That Bird Derby over the same course Feb. 27, gained a narrow advantage, posting a half-mile in :45.35 but was soon overcome by Slow Down Andy as the leaders charged into the far turn.
As Straight Up G retreated, Slow Down Andy was soon met with a new challenger at the top of the lane in the form of B4 Farms’ Bye Bye Bobby. Slow Down Andy drifted out to the five-path coming into the stretch, forcing Bye Bye Bobby to the center of the track, and he continued to race erratically in stretch, lugging in at the eighth pole before being corrected while still holding on resiliently over his stubborn rival.
"(Slow Down Andy) showed a lot of courage today," said Gutierrez after the race. "We were a part of some really fast fractions and I didn't think he could get there but he dug deep and he got the job done."
Slow Down Andy completed 1 1/8-miles in 1:50.16 on a fast track to wrap up the first Sunland Park Derby held since 2019. The top two were well clear of the rest of the field, as third-place finisher Pepper Spray finished 8 ½ lengths behind Bye Bye Bobby.
"The pace was a little fast but I chose not to fight him today and things worked out," said Gutierrez. "That horse on the outside was very game and my horse was slowing down a bit but then we changed leads and he got a second wind. I think a very, very special person was looking out for me today. There is a guy that I owe a lot to in Vancouver. He passed away last night and I found out at 2:00 in the morning, so rest in peace."
Slow Down Andy gave trainer Doug O'Neill his third Sunland Park Derby victory, having won the race in 2003 with Excessivepleasure and in 2005 with eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Thor's Echo.
With his Sunland Park Derby win, Slow Down Andy has vaulted up to fourth place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 60 total points, likely securing his starting slot on the first Saturday in May. Bye Bye Bobby and Pepper Spray are not nominated towards the Triple Crown and the 20 and 10 points they respectively earned in the Sunland Derby will not apply unless their owners pay a $6,000 supplemental fee March 28 or a $200,000 fee at entry time for the Kentucky Derby. Fourth-place finisher Fowler Blue is Triple Crown nominated and earned 5 points for the Derby.