Endorsement put himself in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby after he overtook 3-5 favorite Conveyance in the stretch and went on to a three-length win in the rich, Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby on Sunday at Sunland Park. He is the latest quality 3-year-old colt to emerge on the Triple Crown trail for the WinStar Farm operation of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt.
"This horse, I think he moved right up there with Rule and Super Saver," Casner said of the farm's top-ranked prospects for the Kentucky Derby.
Endorsement ($25.80) was content to settle just off of Conveyance, who appeared to need a few steps to get his footing over the surface and then moved clear of his rivals through fractions of 23.71 seconds for the opening quarter and 48.04 for the half-mile. Endorsement began to advance on the final turn, moved even with Conveyance at the quarter pole, and overtook the game pacesetter in the stretch to cover the 1 1/8 miles on a track rated fast in 1:48.46.
"I got to the favorite kind of with ease and then he prevailed and galloped out real nice," said Robby Albarado, who rode Endorsement for the first time Sunday. "Very nice horse."
Shannon Ritter trains Endorsement and said the win was the biggest of her career. She is a former assistant to trainer Elliott Walden, who is now the racing manager for WinStar. Ritter took out her trainer's license in 2005.
Endorsement came into the Sunland Derby off a maiden win at Oaklawn on the undercard of Conveyance's win in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20. Endorsement won the 1 1/16-mile maiden race in his third career start, after launching his career last fall at Churchill Downs.
"He's really been improving since his win at Oaklawn, and his last work was just amazing," Ritter said.
"He showed some greatness today. He ran really, really nice."
Endorsement earned $400,000 for his win in the Sunland Derby, which was run as a graded stakes for the first time since its 2003 introduction. Last year, Mine That Bird finished fourth in the Sunland Derby, one start before upsetting the Kentucky Derby at 50-1.
Ritter said Endorsement is scheduled to fly to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., on Tuesday and at that point it will be discussed with Walden whether the horse goes to Keeneland or Churchill.
Endorsement is a son of Distorted Humor.
Tempted to Tapit finished third in the Sunland Derby, three lengths behind the previously undefeated Conveyance.
The Sunland Derby was the richest of six stakes worth a cumulative $1.4 million on the richest card of the meet at Sunland.