In a bravura performance, local star Runaway Ghost blitzed his rivals with a commanding 2 and 3/4 length win in the 15th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino on Sunday.
The Todd Fincher trainee was brilliant in the 1 and 1/8 mile Kentucky Derby prep and picked up 50 valuable qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby. Runaway Ghost became only the third locally based horse to win the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) in its 15 editions. He currently ranks as the 7th leading point getter for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Under a very thoughtful ride from Tracy Hebert, Runaway Ghost accelerated from 8th place passing the first quarter mile marker to taking a confident lead heading into the stretch. The 7-2 post time favorite used a 4 to 6 wide run on the final turn to put his stamp on the race. The Ghostzapper colt was 4 lengths in front at the top of the stretch and cruised home an easy winner in a time of 1:49.20.
Fincher said in the winner’s circle, “We knew he was legit since we was a baby. We raised him and had great luck with his mother (Rose’s Desert). Everything worked out perfectly. We got a good smooth run into the first turn. He was a little further back than normal, but he had plenty left at the end."
Winning owner and breeder Joe Peacock echoed these sentiments, “He’s the number one Thoroughbred I’ve ever had. If I could, I want to go the Kentucky Derby as fast as I can.”
Out of the stakes winning New Mexico-bred star Rose’s Desert, Runaway Ghost relishes the Sunland oval as much as his mother. He scored a runaway win in the $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity on Jan. 28 and came back to run a game second in the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby. The bay colt earned $400,000 for his Sunland Derby (Gr. III) triumph. The mild favorite paid $9.80 to win.
Dream Baby Dream and jockey Alfredo Juarez, Jr. closed with interest to gain second place for trainer Steve Asmussen. The runner-up made a wide move on the turn and finished 6 lengths clear of the third place finisher – Peace. Dream Baby Dream earned $176,000 for the Dream Baby Dream Racing Stable and picked up 20 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby.
Peace earned $96,000 for the Spendthrift Farm LLC and Town and Country Racing LLC. The Violence colt trained by Richard Mandella acquired 10 points for entry to the Kentucky Derby.
Fourth place finisher Seven Trumpets earned 5 points toward the Kentucky Derby. Dark Vader, Choo Choo, Shane Zain, All Out Blitz, Prince Lucky, New York Central, Hollywood Star and Fortified Effort rounded out the order of finish in the 12 horse field.
Wagering on the 12-race Sunland Derby (Gr. III) day card set a new state record for all sources handle. Nearly $4.3 million was wagered on the card. A robust crowd of 16,717 fans came out to watch and wager on Sunland Park’s biggest day.
GM Gage rallies for dramatic score in New Mexico State University Handicap
Under a well-timed ride from jockey Tracy Hebert, longshot G M Gage posted an upset in a thrilling edition of the New Mexico State University Handicap for trainer Gary Cross.
Racing far back off the early lead, G M Gage rallied down the center of the racetrack and tagged post-time favorite Shining Source by a head at the wire, giving the son of Elijah's Song his first career stakes win.
The battle for the early lead was contested by a number of runners, including Shining Source as well as Diabolical Gator and Hunter Rocks. Shining Source, ridden by Luis Contreras, appeared to have the edge at the top of the lane, opening up on the field while being chased momentarily down by Hute.
Hebert guided G M Gage to the center of the course and rallied tenaciously to pick up the win. Sent off at odds of 11.30-to-1, G M Gage returned $24.60 to his winning backers.
Owned by Maurcenia Cross, G M Gage won for the sixth time in his 34-race career. The win pads his lifetime earnings to more than $237,000.
The final time for the mile and 70 yards was 1 minute, 40.55 seconds. Shining Source held on for the place, just ahead of Thunder Dome and Hute, who rounded out the top four finishers.
Blamed demolishes field in $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks
Blamed was let loose at the top of the stretch en route to a demolition win in the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks at 1 and 1/16 miles. Under jockey Ken Tohill, Blamed waited patiently before attacking front runner Kram at the quarter pole
The immensely talented daughter of Blame took off energetically when asked by Tohill, and the race was never in doubt. Blame earned her ticket for the Kentucky Oaks with a dominating 6 and 1/4 length win in a time of 1:43.32. The victory was her fifth in a row and third consecutive stakes triumph. The three-year-old filly was coming off local wins in the $65,000 El Paso Times Stakes and the $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes. She earned 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Blamed is owned by long time Southwest horseman Cleber Massey and conditioned by Joel Marr.
Marr said in the winner’s circle, “We are very proud of her. She relaxed very well today and gave us a different look. You never know what can happen when you don’t get the early lead. She showed us a new dimension today.”
Blamed earned $124,000 from her fifth career win in six starts. She paid $2.80 as the 2-5 favorite.
Kram finished a good second place, 8 lengths in front of Charge Back.
Mt Veeder hangs on to score in Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes
The finish line came up just in time for Mt Veeder and jockey Alfredo Juarez, Jr., as they held off a furious rally from a fast-charging Blameitonthelaw to score a mild upset in the Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes.
Owned by W Bill Tomasic and Go-To-Toga Racing and saddled by Debra Cugnini, Mt Veeder took control of the race right from the start, getting to the lead and setting quick early fractions of 21.93 and 44.36 seconds for the opening half mile.
Mt Veeder fended off several challenges for the lead at the top of the lane, and was aided when the late-closing Blameitonthelaw, sent off as the 8-to-5 post time favorite, was forced to the far outside under jockey Luis Contreras. The wide trip cost the favorite quite a bit of ground, as his late rally came up a bit short, missing by a long neck to the winner.
A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Ghostzapper, Mt Veeder picked up his 8th win from 17 lifetime starts. A multiple winner in both quarter horse and thoroughbred races, Mt Veeder ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in a final time of 1 minute, 15.18 seconds. The win pads Mt Veeder's career earnings to more than $295,000.
Sent off at odds of 6.70-to-1, Mt Veeder returned $15.40 to win. Following Blameitonthelaw across the wire were Concord Fast and Deputy's Echo finished fourth.
Hennessy Express wires NM Breeders Oaks field
Jockey Roimes Chirinos and heavily favored Hennessy Express cruised to a wire-to-wire victory in Sunday's New Mexico Breeders' Oaks.
Chirinos alertly guided Hennessy Express towards the rail after establishing the lead shortly after the start. The daughter of Roll Hennessy Roll slowed the pace down through an opening half mile of 48.81 seconds before she opened up her lead midway around the far turn.
Chirinos got after Hennessy Express at the top of the lane when challenged briefly by Movin On and jockey Ken Tohill. Hennessy Express easily repelled that threat and drew off to a 2 1/4-length victory, running 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 44.21 seconds as the 11-to-10 favorite.
Trained by Todd Fincher for owners by Dale F Taylor Racing LLL, Hennessy Express has won three times in her 9-race career. Prior to her victory in the Oaks, Hennessy Express also earned a stakes in her first start as a 3-year-old with a romping score in the Enchantress Stakes. Her career earnings top more than $140,675.
Hennessy Express paid $4.20 to win, with Movin On settling for second, well ahead of third place finisher McGoldie and fourth place finisher Scarlet Streak.
Blazing Navarone pulls clear late in NM Breeders Derby
Blazing Navarone ran his unblemished streak at Sunland Park to four straight with an emphatic score in Sunday's New Mexico Breeders' Derby under jockey Ry Eikleberry.
Sent off as the overwhelming favorite in the field of nine state-bred sophomores, Blazing Navarone was rushed up shortly after the start to wrestle the early lead away from Western Warning heading into the backstretch. Eikelberry controlled the pace from that point on, turning away a brief bid by Dani's Choice before pulling clear late on their way to a 3 3/4 length triumph.
Owned by George Coleman and trainer Henry Dominguez, Blazing Navarone picked up his fifth career win from nine lifetime starts. He is a perfect 4-for-4 at Sunland, with recent stakes wins also coming in the 4 Rivers John Deere and Red Hedeman Mile. The three-time stakes winner now has career earnings topping $228,000.
Blazing Navarone ran 1 1/16 miles in a final time of 1 minute, 44.84 seconds and returned $2.40 to winning bettors. Dani's Choice settled for second, with Western Warning and War Paint Brave rounding out the top four.
Faypien triumphant for Team Baffert in Harry W. Henson Handicap
Proving best under a heady ride from Martin Garcia, Faypien made a triumphant return to the winners circle with a strong win in the Harry W Henson Handicap for trainer Bob Baffert.
Faypien, sent off as the 8-to-5 favorite in the race, dueled on the lead for much of the race, eventually overtaking pacesetter Adore on the far turn before fighting off a stiff challenge from Kell Paso, who settled for the runnerup position under Ry Eikleberry. Faypien edged clear in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by nearly 2 lengths, running a mile in 1 minute, 35.28 seconds.
Owned by Baoma Corporation, Faypien is a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly by Ghostzapper. A two-time stakes winner last year at in southern California, Faypien had been away from the races since a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 La Brea Handicap last December at Santa Anita.
Faypien picked up her fourth win from eight career starts, increasing her lifetime earnings to more than $380,000. To her winning backers, Faypien returned $5.40.
Following Kell Paso in second was Adore and The Incident.