New Mexico gets its moment on the Kentucky Derby trail Sunday, March 26, with the Sunland Park Derby. The Grade 3, $600,000 race at a mile and an eighth on dirt drew a field of seven, though after Friday’s announced defection of Fort Bragg to the Florida Derby (G1), only six are expected to run. The race offers 50-20-15-10-5 Road to the Kentucky Derby points to its top five finishers, assuming they are eligible for points. This means enough points to likely qualify its winner for the Run for the Roses.
The 2-1 morning-line favorite, Hard to Figure, is Triple Crown-nominated but still in the barn of Bob Baffert, meaning that he would be more likely to target the Preakness or Belmont should this race go well. Among the rest of the horses expected to run, only Low Expectations and One in Vermillion are currently Triple Crown-nominated, though horses other than Hard to Figure would be eligible for the Kentucky Derby should their connections opt to nominate them late.
No one has won the Kentucky Derby after winning the Sunland Park Derby, though Mine That Bird famously took the blanket of roses in 2009 after finishing fourth behind Kelly Leak at Sunland earlier that year. Firing Line, the Sunland Derby winner in 2015, went on to finish a tough-as-nails second to American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby.
The 2022 Sunland Derby winner, Slow Down Andy, proved to be one of the most plucky and underrated three-year-olds of the year, winning the Del Mar Derby (G2) on grass later in the summer and finishing third against older horses in both the Awesome Again (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
Sunland Park Derby 2023 Information
Race Date: Sunday, March 26, 2023
Track: Sunland Park Racetrack in Sunland Park, New Mexico
Post Time: 4:45 p.m. Mountain Time
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Age/Sex: three-year-old fillies
Where to Watch: FanDuel TV
Where to Bet: TVG.com and FanDuel Racing
Sunland Park Derby Odds
This is the field for the 2023 Sunland Park Derby, organized by post position. It includes their trainers, jockeys, and morning-line odds assigned by the track.
|1||How Did He Do That||Steve Asmussen||Alfredo Juarez, Jr.||9-2|
|2||Low Expectations||Antonio Garcia||Mario Gutierrez||6-1|
|3||Fort Bragg||Tim Yakteen||Juan Hernandez||SCR|
|4||Henry Q||Todd Fincher||Edwin Maldonado||3-1|
|5||One in Vermillion||Esteban Martinez||Harry Hernandez||6-1|
|6||Hard to Figure||Bob Baffert||Flavien Prat||2-1|
|7||Wild On Ice||Joel Marr||Ken Tohill||20-1|
Fort Bragg will scratch from the Sunland Park Derby and instead race in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, April 1.
Sunland Park Derby Prep Results
Out of the six horses expected to start, four come out of stakes races at Sunland. Henry Q was a dazzling, easy winner of the Mine That Bird Derby on February 28, the final local prep for the Sunland Park Derby. Wild on Ice also comes out of that race, but he was third, 20 lengths behind Henry Q. One in Vermillion and How Did He Do That finished 1-2 in the Riley Allison Derby on January 29 at Sunland, only a length apart. (Giroovin, fifth in the Riley Allison, did come back in the Mine That Bird, but was 14 lengths second behind Henry Q. Giroovin did not enter the Sunland Park Derby.)
Hard to Figure is the only one coming into the Sunland Park Derby out of a graded race. Hewas most recently second in the Robert B. Lewis (G3), a neck behind Newgate. Low Expectations won a $50,000 starter-optional claimer by a neck at Santa Anita on March 3. He was not in for the tag, though he did break his maiden in a claimer on January 15.
Sunland Park Derby Contenders
These are the contenders in the 2023 Sunland Park Derby, organized by post position:
How Did He Do That: New Mexico has been a good fit for him; he needed to drop for a tag (a $150,000 tag, to be sure, but still a tag) to graduate at Churchill but he has been well beaten in stakes races at Remington and Oaklawn. He won the Zia Park Juvenile, though, and was a gaining second in the Riley Allison at Sunland. He also has tactical speed, a point in his favor since he can sit off a pace that will be red-hot.
Low Expectations: He broke his maiden the first time he switched to dirt, though that was also on the drop to a claimer and his only start since was in a starter race. This is a serious step up in class, though, and even though this is a short field, he is going to have a lot of other front-end gas to battle with.
Fort Bragg: Trainer Tim Yakteen has rerouted him out of the Sunland Park Derby and into the Florida Derby on Saturday, April 1.
Henry Q: He bounced to the lead in the Mine That Bird Derby last out and though he did have a bit of company early, he won by fourteen easy lengths in that race, his two-turn debut. It was a major step forward from his previous races in maiden company at Santa Anita. There is some fear he will regress, though; on the other hand, his breeding suggests that two turns will be his sweet spot. And, though he wired the race last out, he showed in his maiden-breaker that he has a stalking gear.
One in Vermillion: He has won three of his four starts, with his only defeat coming in a 4 1/2-furlong baby race in April of last year. He defeated How Did He Do That last out in the Riley Allison, but this is a much deeper field where he will have more company up front than he has ever had. The fact that he broke his maiden from just off the pace last year in a five-furlong dash suggests that he could work a stalking trip, but he also needs a serious step up in terms of speed to match the top echelon of this classier group.
Hard to Figure: Though he has won just once in five starts, he has also been keeping better company than the rest of his foes in this race, especially now that Fort Bragg is out. Though he has been defeated in both of his two-turn starts, he only missed by a neck behind Newgate in the Robert B. Lewis last out. That showed he could battle up front and keep running against good competition. His one win came from just off the pace as well, suggesting he can be tractable
Wild On Ice: He has had some early trouble in both of his last two races, the Mine That Bird and the Riley Allison, and been beaten double-digit lengths in both. Perhaps a better start can lead to a better result, but his better races have come on or close to the pace. In a race with horses who are both more reliable at the start and faster early than Wild On Ice has ever shown, he would be a surprise.
Sunland Park Derby Past Winners Past Performances
The Sunland Park Derby has been run seven times since the beginning of the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system. In that time, six of the seven winners have come from stakes company, with the only exception being Govenor Charlie, who had most recently won a maiden special weight at Santa Anita.
No last-out stakes winner has won the Sunland Park Derby since the advent of the points system, but every winner except for Govenor Charlie (who had no stakes experience, but came from a major circuit) had some points-race experience before. Both Chitu (2014) and Firing Line (2015) came out of second-place finishes in the Robert B. Lewis. Hence (2017) and Cutting Humor (2019) both came out of seventh-place finishes in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn, while Slow Down Andy (2022) was most recently sixth in the Risen Star. Even Runaway Ghost, who won the Sunland Derby off of a second-place outing in the local Mine That Bird Derby, had previously run fifth in the CashCall Futurity (G1) at Los Alamitos.
Sunland Park Derby Undercard
The Sunland Park Derby is the tenth of 11 races on Sunland’s card on Sunday, March 26, with post time scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time. The card features six other stakes races, including the $300,000 Sunland Park Oaks, a 50-20-15-10-5 point prep race for the Kentucky Oaks. It is Sunland Park’s flagship race card, and you can watch and wager all day long through FanDuel TV, FanDuel, and TVG!
Sunland Park History
Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino is located in Sunland Park, New Mexico, just eight miles from the center of El Paso, Texas. It opened in 1959 as a racetrack, conducting Thoroughbred and quarter horse races. The track operated solely as a racetrack until 1999, when New Mexico lawmakers passed a bill allowing slot machines at racetrack. Since then, it has been a combination racetrack and casino, and gaming has revitalized the purses at Sunland Park.
The highlight of the season is the Sunland Park Derby, a Grade 3 race that virtually guarantees its winner a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The Sunland Park Oaks, a 50-point qualifier for the Kentucky Oaks, is contested on the same day. On the quarter horse side, its leading race is the Championship at Sunland Park, a Grade 1 race at 440 yards.
Sunland Park Derby FAQ
Q: When is the Sunland Park Derby?
A: The 2023 Sunland Park Derby happens Sunday, March 26 at 4:45 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time. The race is the 10th of 11 on Sunday’s card.
Q: Where is the Sunland Park Derby?
A: It takes place at Sunland Park Racetrack in Sunland Park, New Mexico.
Q: Which trainer has the most wins in the Sunland Park Derby?
A: Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill have each won the Sunland Park Derby three times. O’Neill does not have an entrant in 2023, though Bob Baffert brings Hard to Figure.
Q: Who is the favorite for the 2023 Sunland Park Derby?
A: Hard to Figure, most recently second in the Robert B. Lewis (G3), is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Sunland Park Derby. He should indeed go off favored for trainer Bob Baffert.
Q: Who is the best Sunland Park Derby jockey?
A: Victor Espinoza and Martin Garcia have each won the Sunland Park Derby twice. Neither takes a call this year, though Alfredo Juarez (How Did He Do That) and Mario Gutierrez (Low Expectations) have each won the race once.
Q: Who won the 2022 Sunland Park Derby?
A: Slow Down Andy won the 2022 Sunland Park Derby for trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. Gutierrez rides Low Expectations, who is trained by Antonio Garcia for owner Reddam Racing, who also owned Slow Down Andy.