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A full field of 12 are set to do battle in this Sunday’s Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby, which awards Kentucky Derby points on a 50-25-10-5 basis. Horses from Arkansas, Florida, and California have shipped in for the race, with top trainers Steve Asmussen, Jerry Hollendorfer, and Todd Pletcher taking shots at this last 50-point race of the Kentucky Derby prep season.
All Out Blitz has been named the tepid 4-1 morning line favorite after a distant-third place effort in his last start, the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The Simon Callaghan-trained colt will break from the rail and will likely be the pace-setter with that inside draw. Jockey Martin Garcia will have the mount for the first time since the horse’s debut.
California shippers have had solid success at Sunland Park over the years, but last year, Asmussen shipped Hence in from Oaklawn Park and won the event in stylish fashion. This year, Asmussen brings his recent Oaklawn Park allowance winner New York Central looking for back-to-back wins. New York Central will break from post three and regular jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., will have the mount.
Another talented shipper comes from the barn of Dale Romans. Hollywood Star will look to bounce back after a lackluster 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, which saw him finishing fourth. As a 2-year-old, he was a multiple graded stakes-placed horse that always showed ability. Robby Albarado will have the mount from post four.
Post time for the Grade 3 Sunland Derby will be 7:15 PM EST. The field from the rail out includes All Out Blitz, Dark Vader, New York Central, Hollywood Star, Peace, Shane Zain, Prince Lucky, Seven Trumpets, Choo Choo, Dream Baby Dream, Runaway Ghost, and Fortified Effort.
#5 Peace – In a race as wide-open as this one, it’s worth taking a shot with a price horse, and at 12-1, Peace looks like the right horse. If you look at his running lines, then you realize that he’s been running well against the biggest names in the crop this year. He did struggle badly two races back in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, which was a race that he should’ve won, but he rebounded nicely last time out to finish fourth in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. You might think that a fourth-place effort isn’t all that great, but remember: the San Felipe was the strongest Kentucky Derby prep that we’ve seen so far, thanks to the epic stretch duel between Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie. Trainer Richard Mandella wheels Peace back quickly here, which I like, and now we’ll see if the San Felipe can be a key race moving forward.
#3 New York Central – Asmussen has always thought highly of this horse that’s hit the board in all four starts. Last time out at Oaklawn Park, he was a sharp allowance winner over a muddy track. That effort earned him the right to run in this race. He’ll be in with a big shot here, but the one thing I question is his class. He hasn’t faced elite competition yet. This race isn’t the cream of the crop by any means, but it will be his toughest challenge yet. I nearly picked him on top, but I’d like to see him prove his class first, which he certainly could end up doing here.
#1 All Out Blitz – He definitely gets a class drop here after banging heads with some of the best horses in the division at Santa Anita in his last two starts. Two races back, he ran into McKinzie in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, but he only lost by a little over 3 lengths while setting the early pace. In his last start, he cut back to 7 furlongs in the San Vicente, but he chased a very fast early pace and finished a well-beaten third. His early speed will be dangerous at Sunland Park, and he’s bred to handle this stretch out in distance. It will all depend on the trip he gets. If he’s loose on the lead, then he’ll be tough to run down, but if he’s pressed, then he could have trouble holding on for the win. On paper, there does look to be other speed in this race.
#7 Prince Lucky – This is more of a hunch play than anything. On paper, he looks to be a bit overmatched, but he’ll be running for his new trainer, Pletcher, for the first time. That angle alone is enough to give this horse a shot, but you also have to like that top jockey John Velazquez will come in to ride this horse. It is hard to imagine Velazquez coming in for no reason to Sunland Park. There are signs that this horse is getting ready to run a nice race, and he was three-for-four before struggling badly in the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes. If he’s not overbet, then he’s worth a small play.
#8 Seven Trumpets – This horse is very difficult to get a read on, so of course he’s entered in a race that’s very difficult to handicap. His 3-year-old debut in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes was good enough to make you think that he’s a legitimate horse going forward, but he really struggled in his last race, the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. The track was a mess that day, so perhaps he didn’t like the slop, or maybe his second-place Jerome effort had more to do with the field being weak. His speed figures suggest that he has some improving to do, so play him cautiously.
#4 Hollywood Star – It seems like I’m always labeling Romans horses as “Exotic Plays,” as I have done it with both of his runners in this race. Hollywood Star has always been a horse that’s shown class, and it’s always been rumored that he might be one of his better 3-year-olds this season. Now is the time to show it, though, as his last race in the Sam F. Davis was very poor. He seems to be a one-dimensional runner that needs a lot of pace up front in order to have a chance. He’ll come with a run, but I’m not sure that it’ll be enough to win.
#11 Runaway Ghost – After disappointing in the local prep race for this one, a lot of people will jump off of his bandwagon for this contest, but don’t forget that this horse was highly-touted. If he rebounds, then he could be competitive against a field that leaves a lot to be desired. It was hard coming up with a “Party Crasher” for this one, mainly because no horse in this race would be a total shock. This is truly a wide-open event, but Runaway Ghost could break a lot of hearts with a win here, as he ‘s become the forgotten local horse.
#10 Dream Baby Dream – He’s finished third three straight times against allowance company, yet now he’ll go up against stakes competition, which seems to be too tough of a spot for him.
#9 Choo Choo – He’ll be trying the dirt here for the first time since his debut back in September. He’s been solid on both turf and synthetic, but he’s not bred for the dirt. The connections are probably just taking a shot in this easier Kentucky Derby prep race, but he has some proving to do on the dirt.
#2 Dark Vader – He finished third last time out in the Robert B. Lewis, which most years would be great, but this year’s edition was very weak. He certainly has the look of a horse that could improve, but it won’t be enough.
#6 Shane Zain – He broke his maiden at Oaklawn Park two races back in a maiden special weight, but then was a well-beaten fifth in an allowance try last time out. He may have not liked the sloppy track that day, but he’ll still need to show improvement, as he doesn’t match up from a speed figure standpoint.
#12 Forfeited Effort – He looks to take a step up in class after not doing nearly enough against lower stakes competition. He’ll need to make a giant improvement in order to have a shot.
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