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Sunland Derby returns Sunday; race preview

Photo of past Sunland Derby race

(Courtesy: Eric Alwan, Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino)

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico - An attractive field of seven will make their way to the starting gate on Sunday in the 18th running of $600,000 guaranteed, Grade 3 Sunland Derby.

The 1 1/8 mile event, which is part of an extraordinary, 11-race card at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino, will be headlined by a pair of local stakes winners as well as several invaders from some of the leading horsemen in the country.

Henry Q, winner of the Mine That Bird Derby here on Fe. 28, as well as Riley Allison Derby winner One In Vermillion, will tangle with several California-based threats including Hard To Figure, Low Expectations and Fort Bragg.  

The Sunland Derby (Gr. III) is a major milestone event on the road to the Run for the Roses, coming up on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

The race carries with it 50 points to the winner.

Horses with the most points based on their results in prep races are automatically qualified to be entered in the Kentucky Derby.

Aside from the 50 points to the winner, the second place finisher receives 20 points, the third place finisher 10 points and the fourth place finisher 5 points.

In post position order, here's a look at the field for the $600,000 guaranteed Sunland Derby (Gr. III).

How Did He Do That, breaking from the rail, will be ridden by Alfredo Juarez, Jr. for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

A two-time winner from eight lifetime starts, the son of Good Magic enters the Sunland Derby on a three-race losing streak, having not won a race since capturing the Zia Juvenile Stakes last November at Zia Park. Asmussen is hoping to win his third Sunland Park Derby (Gr. III), having won the event in 2017 with Hence and in 2012 with Daddy Nose Best. 

Low Expectations comes into the Sunland Derby on a two-race win streak, having broken his maiden before winning an optional claiming race at Santa Anita earlier this year.

Trained by Alan Garcia, the son of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez, who captured the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) last year aboard Slow Down Andy.

Fort Bragg is trained by Tim Yakteen and exits a fifth-place effort in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes earlier this month at Santa Anita.

Prior to that, the son of Tapit was third in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in his final start as a 2-year-old. Fort Bragg will be ridden by Juan Hernandez.

Henry Q, owned by the Del Mar Group, will be sent to the track by Sunland Park's leading trainer Todd Fincher.

The son of Blame has two wins from four career starts, his most recent win coming at Sunland in the Mine That Bird Derby on Feb. 28.

Henry Q romped to victory that day, crossing the wire nearly 15 lengths ahead of his rivals.

After breaking his maiden on Feb. 4 at Santa Anita, Henry Q will be looking for his third straight victory and will be ridden by Edwin Maldonado from post 4 in the starting gate.

Fincher won the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) in 2018 with Runaway Ghost.

One In Vermillion is a three-time winner from four career starts.

He most recently won the Riley Allison Derby here on Jan. 29.

Prior to that, the son of Army Mule won a pair of stakes races as a 2-year-old at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

Trained by Esteban Martinez, One In Vermillion will be ridden by Harry Hernandez. 

Hard To Figure will represent the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, a three-time Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner.

The son of Hard Spun most recently was second in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

Prior to that, Hard To Figure was fifth in the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar last November.

Hard To Figure will be ridden by Flavien Prat and has been installed as the 2-to-1 morning line favorite.

Baffert is the winningest trainer in Sunland Derby (Gr. III) history, having scored with Chitu in 2014, as well as in 2013 with Govenor Charlie and in 2006 with Wanna Runner.

Wild On Ice won the first two starts of his career as a 2-year-old at Zia Park for trainer Joel Marr before finishing off the board in the Riley Allison Derby and then running third in the Mine That Bird Derby.

The son of Tapizar will be ridden by Ken Tohill. 

Post time for the Sunland Derby (Gr. III), which will be run as the tenth race on the card, is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. local time.

In addition to the Sunland Derby (Gr. III), five other stakes races will be run on the Sunday program, including the 20th running of the $300,000 Sunland Oaks, scheduled as the eighth race on the card. The Oaks field will feature a field of seven fillies racing 1 1/16 miles.

Fincher is expected to hold a strong hand in the Oaks with Flying Connection, who romped in her most recent start, capturing the Island Fashion Stakes here on Feb. 28 by 9 1/4 lengths.

The daughter of Nyquist is a two-time stakes winner and will likely be a short-priced favorite to win for the fourth time in seven career starts. 

The Oaks has a post time of 3:41 p.m. local time.

Between the Oaks and the Derby, a field of nine older fillies and mares will contest the 29th running of the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap, to be race at a distance of one mile.

Eda, trained by Baffert, comes into the Henson with four straight wins, most recently capturing the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita Park in March of 2022.

The 4-year-old daughter of Munnings has earned more than $430,000 in her seven-race career and will be ridden once again by Prat. 

The Harry Henson Stakes will go as race nine with a scheduled post time of 4:14 p.m.

Also featured on the Sunday card is the 32nd running of the $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap, with a field of older sprinters racing 6 1/2 furlongs.

Bye Bye Bobby and Goddard, both hailing from the Fincher barn, will tangle with Arizona invader Truth Seeker, a winner of four of his last five starts for trainer Rafael Barraza. 

New Mexico-breds will also get their chance to shine earlier on the card on Sunday, with a trio of stakes races, including the 13th running of the $250,000 New Mexico Breeders' Oaks, the 18th running of the $250,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby and the 20th running of the $120,000 New Mexico State University Stakes. In all, the seven stakes races on Sunday's card are worth more than $1.7 million in purse money. 

The 11-race Sunland Derby (Gr. III) program has a first post time of 12:25 p.m. local time.

The Sunland Oaks, the Harry Henson Handicap and the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) will be televised nationally live on Fox Sports 1's America's Day at the Races. Hosted by Michelle Yu, FS1's live coverage will begin at 3 p.m. local time.  

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