The $800,000, Grade 3, Sunland Park Derby offers 50 Derby qualifying points to the winner. Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto is likely to go to post as a prohibitive favorite off his visually impressive score in the Robert B. Lewis in early February. His main challenger, Anothertwistafate, also ships in from California, having most recently won the El Camino Real Derby by a wide margin. These two will line up against a Sunland-based contingent that includes the top four finishers from the local prep, the Mine That Bird Derby.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, and it seems a certainty that they will be moving quickly on the front end. All three of the main contenders – Mucho Gusto (#1), Anothertwistafate (#2), and Hustle Up (#3) – have put forth their best efforts when racing on or near the early lead and will be gunning for the front from inside post positions. However, they will not be alone in the first vanguard, as horses such as Walker Stalker (#6) and Diamond Blitz (#9) should be pressing hard from the outside. A situation that favors closers could enhance the prospects of runners such as Wicked Indeed (#4) and Cutting Humor (#5).
Let’s go through the field:
#1, MUCHO GUSTO (8-5): This colt was originally slated to ship to Oaklawn Park for last weekend’s Rebel, but Bob Baffert was forced to change plans for a number of his top 3-year-olds following the cancellation of the San Felipe. That series of events should raise Mucho Gusto’s prospects of making it into the Kentucky Derby, as this Sunland Park Derby drew a softer bunch than the group we saw participate at Oaklawn last weekend. Mucho Gusto is going to be a prohibitive favorite in this race and I normally would be looking to find a reason to bet against a horse like this. However, it’s awfully hard to knock his form as it relates to his competition in this second-tier Derby prep.
He actually ran quite well in the Los Alamitos Futurity, hanging on to be second behind top Derby prospect Improbable and in front of Extra Hope. Both of those rivals returned to participate in the first division of last weekend’s Rebel Stakes, and they certainly validated the strong speed figure for that race. There are other speed horses in this race and Mucho Gusto is not quite fast enough to keep up with the likes of Hustle Up and Diamond Blitz in the early going. I don’t think it will matter, since Mucho Gusto proved he is capable of rating off a rival and finishing strongly in that Robert B. Lewis victory. As long as he works out a similar trip this time, he is probably going to win. Some may be concerned about his stamina, but I doubt those concerns come into play against this group. The obvious selection.
#2, ANOTHERTWISTAFATE (3-1): This colt may be Mucho Gusto’s equal in the talent department, but I have serious doubts about his potential to transition his synthetic form to dirt. This is a classic synthetic specialist who will probably end up being best on the turf. His pedigree is overwhelmingly dominated by grass influences. Scat Daddy is a versatile sire, but he’s sired his fair share of turf horses. His dam was not much of a racehorse, but she comes from a strong Juddmonte turf family. She is a half-sister to three group stakes winners on turf in France, including two-time Group 1 winner Nebraska Tornado.
Anothertwistafate put in a dazzling effort to win the El Camino Real Derby last time out, earning a 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure that stacks up well against the best figures of Mucho Gusto. The pace of that race was moderate, yet it’s not as if he was allowed to walk on the lead. At the quarter pole Anothertwistafate found another gear and leveled off beautifully as he drew off through the lane. However, watching that replay, I get a strong sense that he moves like a turf horse, and I just find it hard to believe that he will be able to transition that excellent turn of foot to a dirt surface. In my opinion, the way to exploit value in this Sunland Derby is to bet against this likely second choice. Pass.
#3, HUSTLE UP (5-1): While I have some doubts about this gelding’s quality, I do not want to dismiss a horse that has won 8 races in 10 career starts. Most of those victories were achieved against vastly inferior competition, but I think it would be unwise to diminish what this horse has accomplished in his last three starts. He has clearly improved since his connections stretched him out in distance, and his rising TimeformUS Speed Figures support that assertion. He survived an extremely taxing pace when he won going a mile two back, and then was a dominant winner of the Mine That Bird Derby as he broke the race open coming to the quarter pole. The major concern with this horse is lack of versatility.
He gets extremely rank in the opening furlongs of his races, so his rider has no choice but to send for the lead. As long as Diamond Blitz shows the speed that he has in prior starts, that could be a serious problem for Hustle Up, but I still think this horse has a big chance to stick around for a piece of this. I’m against Anothertwistafate, and it’s not as if there is an abundance of appealing alternatives for exacta and trifecta positions. Cannot be dismissed.
#4, WICKED INDEED (6-1): Perhaps the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles will help him more than the others since he was gaining ground last time, but his pedigree does not necessarily suggest that will be the case. Tapit is a versatile sire, but this colt’s dam was a sprinter and this horse is a full brother to some horses with distance limitations. In my opinion, Hustle Up ran significantly better than this horse in the Mine That Bird Derby, and I don’t want to just assume that Wicked Indeed will turn the tables because he receives a more favorable pace setup this time. I’m using him underneath, but he’s relatively slow in comparison to the favorite, and I think he would need a lot of things to work in his favor to actually come away with the victory. An exotics player.
#5, CUTTING HUMOR (8-1): This colt is difficult to assess off two dichotomous efforts in 2019. He looked like one of Todd Pletcher’s most intriguing Derby prospects off his runner-up effort behind Bourbon War back in January. Yet he then showed absolutely nothing when sent to post as the favorite in the Southwest last time out. He did make a wide, early move into contention at Oaklawn Park that day, but the race was won by a longshot who made a similar move from off the pace, so that’s hardly an excuse. This is a relatively weak prep field, and he may be a better price than the rivals to his inside, so I think you have to include him in some capacity. Using underneath.
#6, WALKER STALKER (15-1): He has raced relatively close to the pace in his prior starts, and such a trip may prove to be far more taxing in this race. I would be somewhat surprised if this Mine That Bird Derby third-place finisher is able to achieve another in-the-money result this time. Pass.
#7, PASAMONTE MAN (20-1): A total pace meltdown would be required for this New York-bred, New Mexico-raced maiden to find his way into the superfecta – and such a scenario is hardly out of the question. His 97 TimeformUS Late Pace Rating is the highest in the field, so he figures to benefit most of all from a fast pace. He was closing best of all at the end of the Mine That Bird Derby last time out and he may not need to improve much on the 96 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned that day to get a small piece of this pie. Using underneath.
#8, COLLUSIONIST (25-1): This Colorado-bred gelding was never a factor when reporting home a distant 6th in the Mine That Derby last month. Despite earning a career-best speed figure in that initial route attempt, he remains one of the slowest members of this field. It would take a well-orchestrated conspiracy to garner this unlikely win candidate a victory. Pass.
#9, DIAMOND BLITZ (15-1): He is a classic run-off, and will sprint as swiftly as Kent Desormeaux allows in the early portion of this race. Such aggressive tactics are likely to be his own undoing, but they could also spell trouble for need-the-lead types Anothertwistafate and Hustle Up. Know him early; pass.
#10, EYE CLOUD (30-1): He was never a factor in the Mine That Bird Derby and had done nothing prior to indicate he can compete at this advanced level. Pass.
I’m not trying to beat likely heavy favorite MUCHO GUSTO (#1). My strategy is to key him on top and play against his main rival Anothertwistafate in the remaining exacta and trifecta slots. Horses such as Hustle Up (#3), Wicked Indeed (#4), and even longshot Pasamonte Man (#7) are all contenders for minor awards.
Exacta: 1 with 3,4,5
Trifecta: 1 with 3,4,5,7 with 3,4,5,7