Triple Crown: Sunland Derby picks and analysis

The ninth race at Sunland Park on Sunday, February 18 is the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby for three-year-olds, which offers 20 Kentucky Derby points to the winner.

Run at a mile and one sixteenth, this prep race hasn’t been as successful at producing Kentucky Derby hopefuls as some others but still boasts a Derby winner in Mine That Bird, who won the 2009 Run for the Roses after finishing fourth here. While he wasn’t able to capture the Sunland Park Derby, his triumph at Churchill shows that Derby winners can come from anywhere, as a few interesting names take aim at this $400,000 race with their eyes set on higher sights.

Lucky Jeremy
Lucky Jeremy won the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park. Photo by Coady Photography.

Headlining this eight-horse field is Stronghold, a 5/2 morning line colt by Ghostzapper-Spectator, by Jimmy Creed, who is trained by Phil D’Amato and already picked up five Derby points with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in December. Even with a few others who could compete here, Stronghold has improved consistently in four tries and figures to be in a stalking position behind a few others who may not be suited for distance.

Breaking from the five-hole, he may be pushed by speed to his direct inside and outside but should still be able to settle in around third or fourth going into the first turn. The only limiting factor to Stronghold may be distance, as he was passed in the stretch last time at this same distance. But continued maturation in his three-year-old debut might be enough to push him over the edge.

Perhaps the most notable threat to Stronghold is the Steve Asmussen trainee Informed Patriot, who breaks from the outside post at morning line odds of 3/1. Joel Rosario is slated to take the mount after riding for Asmussen in Louisiana’s Risen Star Stakes the day prior. Big name connections like these wouldn’t be traveling without some confidence in their entry winning, as Steve Asmussen looks to tie the lead for most wins in the Sunland Park Derby with three.

Still, Informed Patriot has plenty to prove after three straight third-place finishes and a few underwhelming stretch runs as of late. A more aggressive ride from Rosario could put this one in the mix early, taking advantage of the Hard Spun bloodlines and disrupting the early pace.

With any type of quick early fractions in here, speedier horses such as Alotaluck may have trouble hanging on in the stretch, but William Morey’s Lucky Jeremy recently showed that pace and added distance shouldn’t be a problem for him. A winner of Sunland Park’s Riley Allison Derby in January, this 4/1 morning line runner seemed to improve going eight furlongs last time, still with some left in the stretch.

Sunland’s leading jockey Christian Ramos takes the mount, boasting a near-50 percent clip finishing in the money this meet. The track familiarity might be enough to close the gap between this one and the top two contenders, but continued improvement is a must for these connections to end up in the winner’s circle here.

Rounding out the top choices is Curlin’s Kaos, an intriguing 5/1 morning line gelding who switches from turf after breaking his maiden last time out in his fourth try. A California-bred runner, this Antonio Garcia trainee faces an uphill battle coming from state bred maidens, and along with the other contenders here, steps up a bit in class into this spot.

With a late closing kick in his first try past six furlongs, this could be one that ends up as a threat in the scenario of a pace breakdown, assuming the adjustment back to dirt goes as planned for Garcia.

Although Sunland doesn’t appear to be the top early Derby prep once again, last year’s upset connections in Ken Tohill and Joel Marr send out another long shot here in No Trouble, hoping for redemption after failing to reach Churchill a year ago. Maybe a major upset is in store yet again, and Sunland adds another Kentucky Derby winner to its resume fifteen years after Mine That Bird’s stunning Run for the Roses.

The Sunland Park Derby is the 9th race on the Sunday Sunland Park card and goes off at 6:17 EST.


1. #4 Lucky Jeremy (4-1)

2. #5 Stronghold (5-2)

3. #8 Informed Patriot (3-1)

4. #6 Alotaluck (6-1)