Bob Baffert’s raiding party was surprisingly shut out at Oaklawn Park last Saturday, but compensation may await in the form of a Sunland Derby (G3)/Oaks double. The Hall of Fame trainer dispatches the favorites in both of Sunday’s points races at Sunland Park.
Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Mucho Gusto was already the one to beat in the $800,000 Sunland Derby, which offers points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale. Chasing Yesterday inherited the mantle of favoritism in the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, worth the same points toward the Kentucky Oaks (G1), after Bellafina reportedly opted to stay at Santa Anita.
Mucho Gusto brings the highest standard of dirt form into the Sunland Derby. Aside from his lone loss to stablemate Improbable when second in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), Mucho Gusto has been unassailable. The $625,000 son of Mucho Macho Man showed speed to take the Bob Hope (G3), but seamlessly adopted a stalking style in the Robert B. Lewis (G3). While his rail draw suggests forward tactics may be back in play, his tactical versatility could come in handy if other pacey types insist on the front-running role. Regular rider Joe Talamo is back aboard the 8-5 morning-line favorite.
His most intriguing rival on paper is El Camino Real Derby winner Anothertwistafate, who’s dominated his three starts at Golden Gate Fields by a combined margin of 16 lengths. Of course, that’s a Tapeta surface, and he’s gotten used to controlling a moderate pace in a scenario extremely unlikely to be replicated here. But trainer Blaine Wright is convinced that Anothertwistafate is not surface- or lead-dependent, surmising that his flop in his career debut on dirt was more inexperience, and resisting the spray, than a real indicator of aptitude. As a nicely-bred Scat Daddy colt, he’s eligible to run on anything. Juan Hernandez retains the mount on Anothertwistafate, drawn right next to Mucho Gusto in post 2.
New Mexico-bred celebrity Hustle Up earned the status of top local hope after wiring the February 24 Mine That Bird Derby, in his first start versus open company. The Todd Fincher pupil now faces a more complex pace scenario, as well as an extra sixteenth of a mile. Steve Asmussen’s Wicked Indeed was gaining on him belatedly, and the extra ground should serve the Tapit colt well in the rematch. Two back, the Winchell homebred was fourth to War of Will in the Lecomte (G3).
Cutting Humor, seventh in the Southwest (G3) for Todd Pletcher, also boasts a formline on a stronger circuit. At Gulfstream Park previously, the Starlight Racing runner was second in an allowance to next-out Fountain of Youth (G2) runner-up Bourbon War. Hall of Famer John Velazquez makes the trek.
Keith Desormeaux sends stakes firster Diamond Blitz, a distant fourth to Roadster and Nolo Contesto in a Santa Anita allowance, while the beaten cast from the Mine That Bird Derby – third Walker Stalker, fourth Pasamonte Man, sixth Collusionist, and seventh Eye Cloud – all need to improve.
The 1 1/16-mile Sunland Park Oaks marks the seasonal return for Chasing Yesterday, American Pharoah’s half-sister by Tapit, who enhanced her profile with a gutsy decision in last December’s Starlet (G1). The Summer Wind homebred sports a four-for-five record, her only subpar effort coming in the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga, and looks tough to deny in the absence of Santa Anita Oaks (G1)-bound Bellafina. Drayden Van Dyke will guide Chasing Yesterday from post 7.
Five of her opponents are exiting the local prep, the February 24 Island Fashion, where Victim of Love readily beat Backflash, K P Slickem, Parade of Roses, and Figure. Santa Anita shipper Enlisting is the wild card first off the $50,000 claim for Robert Hess Jr., after a 14-length romp in an off-the-turf maiden, but Sunland-based Peaceoutyourhonor is class-challenged.
The stakes-laden card includes the $100,000 Harry Henson for distaffers pitting Escape Clause against Heavenhasmynikki and Baffert’s Just a Smidge; the $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial for sprinters, featuring Chief Cicatriz, Anyportinastorm, and All Out Blitz; and a trio of state-bred stakes.