The Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve makes a stop in New Mexico Sunday for the $600,000 Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby, a qualifying race that awards 50 points to the victor and essentially guarantees a spot in the starting gate May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Mine That Bird used a fourth-place finish in the Sunland Derby in 2009 as a steppingstone to a victory in the Kentucky Derby, while 2015 Sunland Derby winner Firing Line went on to finish second to American Pharoah in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. This year’s edition drew seven entrants.
1. How Did He Do That (9-2 morning-line odds): Good Magic colt was a stakes winner as a 2-year-old and enters this race off a second to fellow Sunland Derby entrant One in Vermillion in the Riley Allison Derby. On paper, that race was not very fast and it’s fair to be skeptical of the top two.
TRAINER: Steve Asmussen; JOCKEY: Alfredo Juarez Jr.
2. Low Expectations (6-1): He made a successful transition from turf to dirt by winning back-to-back races at Santa Anita Park in front-running fashion, but the competition gets significantly tougher here than a maiden claiming race and an allowance-optional claiming race.
TRAINER: Antonio Garcia; JOCKEY: Mario Gutierrez
3. Fort Bragg (4-1): The Los Alamitos Futurity third-place finisher as a 2-year-old, Fort Bragg faded to fifth for new trainer Yakteen in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes March 4 at Santa Anita. There isn’t a 3-year-old the quality of San Felipe winner Practical Move entered here, so he has a chance to punch his Kentucky Derby ticket. Prefer others.
TRAINER: Tim Yakteen; JOCKEY: Juan Hernandez
4. Henry Q (3-1): He won his second straight race with a dominant 14 ¾-length romp in his first try stretching out around two turns in the Mine That Bird Derby. It was a heck of a stakes debut for the Blame colt in his first start for trainer Todd Fincher and a fast race according to the speed-figure makers. He should face some pressure for the early lead, but he’s won from off the pace as well and looks like a win threat in this spot.
TRAINER: Todd Fincher; JOCKEY: Edwin Maldonado
5. One in Vermillion (6-1): The Riley Allison Derby was his third straight stakes victory and he was rested after that front-running win, which was his first try stretching out from sprint distances to a mile. He is eligible to improve with eight weeks of rest and would very likely need to run the fastest race of his life to reach the winner’s circle.
TRAINER: Esteban Martinez; JOCKEY: Harry Hernandez
6. Hard to Figure (2-1): Finished second by a neck to stablemate Newgate in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes in what was a career-best race. Hard to Figure has worked well in preparation for this race, and with seven weeks of rest between starts he could be tough to beat. Looks like he could get an ideal setup from just off the pace. The pick.
TRAINER: Bob Baffert; JOCKEY: Flavien Prat
7. Wild On Ice (20-1): He’s 2-for-2 sprinting but has been beaten by more than 20 lengths in both the Riley Allison Derby and Mine That Bird Derby in his two most recent starts. Looks overmatched in this spot.
TRAINER: Joel Marr; JOCKEY: Ken Tohill
THE PICK: Hard to Figure
LIVE LONGSHOT: Low Expectations