2018 Sunland Derby Picks with Odds and Expert Betting Predictions
I've spent a day at the races at Sunland Park. It's in New Mexico just across the border from El Paso, Texas. It was a great day - the tacos were amazing, and the beer was cold. But it feels so far away from the big time that it is almost impossible to imagine it being relevant. Yet, one weekend a year the big names are drawn to rural New Mexico - Todd Pletcher, Doug O'Neill, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, Jerry Hollendorfer, Simon Callaghan. And they bring some pretty serious horse flesh with them.
On Sunland Derby day there is $800,000 dollars up for grabs in the headline race and, perhaps more importantly, 50 Kentucky Derby points for the winner, which virtually guarantees them a starting spot in the biggest of races. While the race has been relevant since becoming a Grade 3 back in 2010 - and Asmussen and Bob Baffert have each one it twice since then - the only time a winner had an impact on the Triple Crown trail was in 2015 when Firing Line went from glory here to a second-place finish behind American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby. But even before it was a Grade 3 it had its biggest impact in the most bizarre of ways - Mine That Bird somehow used a fourth-place finish here as a springboard for Derby glory. Here's how the cream of this year's 12-horse field, which will enter the starting gate on Sunday afternoon, shapes up (horse, jockey, trainer, track odds):
All Out Blitz, Martin Garcia, Simon Callaghan, 4/1: Callaghan trained Firing Line, so he knows how to win here. That this horse is favored here, though, tells you that the field here has plenty of questions. After breaking his maiden in his third try in December, the colt made his stakes debut in the Sham, running second behind top Derby contender McKinzie. But then he came back and was disappointing in his third-place effort in the San Vicente. He's working very nicely - his last work was a bullet at Santa Anita - but there are more questions than answers about the colt. As a favorite my reflex would be to pass on him.
New York Central, Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 9/2: This is a Tapit colt, which gives the horse a good leg up on the Derby trail - it feels like about a quarter of Derby horses lately have been sons of Tapit. The horse has two wins in four starts, with the last coming at Oaklawn in an allowance race at this same distance. He has a lot to prove here, but that's why he is New Mexico and not somewhere higher-profile. He'll factor in my exotics, but I'm not certain how aggressively just yet.
Hollywood Star, Robby Albarado, Dale Romans, 6/1: Romans was born and raised very close to the barns at Churchill Downs, so he is desperate to win a Derby, and he's taking the long path to Kentucky with these two colts. This colt, the better bred of the two, was second in two nice graded stakes in the late summer last year before finishing a somewhat troubled sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He finished strong there, though, so after a brief refresher he was sent to Tampa Bay for the Sam F. Davis. He didn't fire there at all, finishing fourth in the six-horse field, so it was another refresher before appearing here a month and a half later. He's been training like crazy at Gulfstream and could be ready for a big race. At the price he's my top choice in the field.
Seven Trumpets, Luis Contreras, Dale Romans, 6/1: I don't really understand why this colt is at the same price as his stablemate. He had two wins in his first four starts, but that was nothing remarkable. And then he made his stakes debut in the Southwest at Oaklawn a month ago, stalking an early pace that was far from insane and then totally running out of gas to finish in a dead heat for seventh. I don't like how he has trained, I hate the price, and I imagine the only reason he is here is that if Romans was bringing one colt he might as well bring two. This colt is an easy pass for me.
Prince Lucky, John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 6/1: Pletcher is always a factor on the Derby trail, though it is notable that this is a rare Derby prep outside of California that he has never won. After winning three of four last year on second-tier East Coast tracks, this colt took a shot in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in January. It did not go well at all - he finished seventh and went as wide on the turns as a horse can go. It was back to the drawing board, and this is the first time we have seen him since. The breeding is a bit odd, but I trust the connections and will have a piece of him at the price.
Choo Choo, Mario Gutierrez, Jerry Hollendorfer, 8/1: Here's what I like about this horse: his breeding. He's a son of English Channel out of a Deputy Minister mare, so he just oozes class. But that's it. The problem is that he doesn't run up to that class - or anywhere close. He has two wins in seven starts, he was a non-factor in his only graded stakes, I can't stand his jockey, and the price is terrible. Easy pass.
Runaway Ghost, Tracy Hebert, Todd Fincher, 8/1: This Ghostzapper colt is the local hope. He ran away with the first local prep this year for this race, the Riley Allison, and then he was second in the Mine That Bird to Reride, a Steve Asmussen colt who we will next see in the UAE Derby in Dubai next weekend. This is a tough spot for him, but he likes the track and you can't afford to leave him out of at least the bottom of your exotics.
Raphael Esparza jumps back on the saddle for another big weekend in horse racing and this Saturday and Sunday he will have 'Road to the Kentucky Derby' prep races. Last Saturday at Oaklawn Park and Turfway Park Esparza had another winning day in the ponies cashing and this Saturday and Sunday he looks for more horse racing winners. Last year Esparza had a monster horse racing season cashing for over $2,800 and had winning days in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. Esparza is already up over $700 the past month and he looks for more horse winners this weekend. Esparza $35 Saturday Horse Racing Picks will feature the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Park and Sunday the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park. Throw in that Esparza has had over 20 years of horse racing betting experience and the next four months he will put extra money in your wallets.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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