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Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing at The Downey Profile®

Speed Indeed in the Rich Sunland


By Greg “The Commish” Johnson
The Downey Profile

Posted March 24, 2011

Throw $800K in the graded kitty, line up a dozen horses that resemble an overnight stakes race at best, mix in the long awaited return to racing of Astrology, and what do we have? Well, not a whole lot to get excited about on the road to the first Saturday in May.

Maybe it just me, but it’s a little hard to digest that at least two, and very possibly three runners from this race will be in the Derby starting gate. And if you’re in the gate, I guess that makes you a contender, right?

The Steve Asmussen-trained Astrology has been a hype horse for some time now and is a standout in this fray from a class perspective, taking the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill Downs, followed by a runner up effort in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club behind Santiva. This guy beat To Honor and Serve and Anthony’s Cross in his maiden breaker, so what’s not to like?

I'm not crazy about post 11, which may force his hand to get a good position early, which is his style, running with or chasing the Bob Baffert-trained Sinai on the front end. A must-use in the exotics, but I’m going to take a stance against him in his first race back.

Sinai looks clearly to be the speed off of several good runs in sprints at Santa Anita. He was no match against The Factor in the Grade II San Vicente, but heaven knows The Factor isn’t in this dance, or anything like him. The addition of blinkers may keep Sinai interested early and late, and if he gets loose on the front end unchallenged, he may very well forget to stop running.

Keep an eye on the tote board, as Baffert shippers can take some money if they are truly live and ready to run. Wire-to-wire threat gets the nod for the big graded dough.

Arizona is, oddly enough, well represented by a couple of invaders who closed like gangbusters in the Turf Paradise Derby to shatter the track record and finish ahead of the well regarded Indian Winter. Beer Meister came from 22 lengths back and mowed them down with enough left in the tank to go around the track a second time. His 87 Beyer Speed Figure was a 30 point jump from his previous best. Has he truly turned the corner or does he regress off that effort? I’m rolling with the latter.

Twice the Appeal is clearly a “now” horse, with back-to-back scores in good times, albeit against pretty weak fields at Santa Anita--and he was the other one that finished with a flurry to get the place dough in the Turf Paradise Derby. His Beyer Speed figures consistently on the rise, this guy’s in good hands with trainer Jeff Bonde, and one of my favorite West Coast longshot jockeys, Santiago Reyes. Not an impossible task for a piece, if not all the marbles.

I liked last year’s winner, Endorsement, partially because of his pure speed-track variant numbers. The Jinks Fires-trained Supreme Ruler produced virtually identical numbers in his last race at Oaklawn Park: 91-18. This lightly raced son of Don’t Get Mad out a Danzig mare has tons of room to improve, but in the, “you-can’t bet-them-all,” department, I’m finding myself leaning toward a couple other more seasoned runners.

Nacho Saint is a graded stakes placed runner who comes to this race with a bullet :46.40 four-furlong move at Sunland Park on March 21. He struck the gate in his last, the Grade III Gotham won by Stay Thirsty, yet he still made a nice run at the leaders on the far turn before flattening out. The added distance of that race produced his best Beyer fig to date, and connections thought enough of this guy to enter him in back-to-back graded races last summer at Monmouth Park as a maiden. If this pony runs to those early expectations of his connections, look out.

The Borderland Derby winner, Fusa Code is back after taking that prep while still a maiden. He has four two-turn races under his belt, with those Beyer figures getting better with every race.

My wise-guy horse buddy brought up an interesting point on this charge the other day. How would you like to be the owner of this Steve Asmussen-trained runner and find out your own trainer was shipping in his monster hype horse to run against you? Such is the lure of $800K, and it's the nature of the business as we know it. But that alone may be enough of a factor to keep him off my exotic tickets when I look at the tote board and see which Asmussen horse is getting the money.

In the short history of this graded event, the shippers have done well, and my recollection on the local fare is that the green chili stew is a far better bet. So I’m going to have to pass. On the local horses, certainly not the stew.



Dick and I have had this ongoing debate on the “speed kills” angle that we all have to deal with from time to time, from one race to the next. Where speed can kill us as players is when we disregard a potential “Lone F”. The debate rages on with the come-and-catch-me pick in this one. As usual, may the horse be with you.

Sunday, Race 12
Grade III Sunland Derby
Sunland Park
Purse: $800,000
Distance: 1 1/8 Mile
Surface: Dirt
Post Time: 7:45 ET

Ruler on Ice (KY)
    J. Valdivia Jr.
K. Breen
R Skydiver (CA)
    A. Medellin
122 G
H. Dominguez
Fusa Code (KY)
    J. Shepherd
122 G
S. Asmussen
It's My Party (KY)
    J. M. Bourdieu
122 C
C. Hartman
Behold de Buy (KY)
    K. S. Tohill
122 C
J. Salisbury
Supreme Ruler (KY)
    J. Court
122 C
W. H. Fires
Sinai (KY)
    M. Garcia
122 C
B. Baffert
Nacho Saint (KY)
    J. Bravo
122 C
K. Breen
Twice the Appeal (KY)
    C. Santiago Reyes
122 C
J. Bonde
10 Beer Meister (KY)
    G. Corbett
122 G
M. Ortiz Sr.
11 Astrology (KY)
    J. Leparoux
122 C
S. Asmussen

Owners:  1 - George and Lori Hall; 2 - Daniel F. and S. Fifer Frost; 3 - Mary C. and Robert L. Zollars; 4 - Bobby Joe Hammer; 5 - Donna Eaton; 6 - Winquest Thoroughbreds LLC; 7 - Zayat Stables, LLC; 8 - George and Lori Hall; 9 - Brown, Jr., Edward J., Flores, Victor and Hernandez, Henry; 10 - Egger, Jim and Burns, William; 11 - Stonestreet Stables and Bolton, George

Breeders:  1 - Liberation Farm & Brandywine Farm; 2 - Pam & Martin Wygod; 3 - Northwest Farms LLC; 4 - Bloodstock Holdings LLC; 5 - T. F. VanMeter & Brian Kahn; 6 - B. Wayne Hughes; 7 - Guida Racing Stable, Inc.; 8 - Robert E. Courtney, Jr. & Rick Stivers; 9 - John T. L. Jones III; 10 - Elisabeth Alexander; 11 - Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC

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