Large field expected for Sunland Derby

Updated: March 21, 2009, 11:36 PM ET
By Mary Rampellini | Daily Racing Form

Kelly Leak is set for the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby on March 29 after breezing seven furlongs Saturday morning at his Santa Anita base. Jockey Mike Smith was aboard for the move and has the mount in the Sunland Derby, trainer Mike Machowsky said.

The 1 1/8-mile race is the centerpiece of the Sunland Park meet. It is part of an expanded, five-stakes Sunday card that will feature purses of more than $1.3 million. The card also includes the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks.

Kelly Leak should start as one of the top choices in a projected large field for the Sunland Derby. He was a turf allowance winner at Santa Anita in his last start Feb. 22, and before that was third to This Ones For Phil in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24.

"The timing is great," Machowsky said of the Sunland Derby.

Kelly Leak worked in company in 1:27.20 and completed the final five furlongs of his work in 59 seconds, according to Machowsky. He said the horse cooled out well and is scheduled to fly to New Mexico on Thursday.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he plans to start two horses in the Sunland Derby, and might have two fillies for the Sunland Oaks. A definite for the derby is Mayor Marv, winner of the $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby in his last start Feb. 21. Baffert said his possibles include Mythical Power.

"They're going to work on Monday," Baffert said. "I'm going to work them and see what they do."

Baffert said his other derby possible is Zensational, who earned a Beyer Figure of 104 for a six-furlong maiden special weight win at Santa Anita on Feb. 21. He worked at Santa Anita on Saturday morning, drilling a bullet five furlongs in 58.80 seconds.

Norm Amundson, racing secretary at Sunland, said the derby field could draw as many as 12 horses. Others that he considers probable for the race are Scorewithcater and Mark S the Cooler for trainer Doug O'Neill; Advice for trainer Todd Pletcher; and Dumar, Mine That Bird, Santamonicacanyon, Smokin' Legend, Sky Jedi, and Valid Stripes.

"We have a chance for a full field, it looks like," said Amundson.

Entries for the Sunland Derby will be taken Wednesday.

Baffert said he is considering both Gabby's Golden Gal and Century Mark for the Oaks, which will be run over 1 1/16 miles. Amundson said he also looks for O'Neill to start Hudler.

The Sunland Derby has a unique bonus structure this year. If the race's winner has a Grade 1 victory to his credit, he will earn a $200,000 bonus. Another incentive offers a $100,000 bonus to a winner who has any previous graded earnings. It is a bonus that probables Advise, Kelly Leek, Mark S the Cooler, and Mine That Bird will be eligible for.

Last year, the Sunland Derby was worth $600,000, when called the WinStar Derby. The race was renamed this year because WinStar's multiyear sponsorship contract ended. Sunland officials boosted the purse to $800,000 and added the bonus twist this year with the hopes of landing graded status for the track's premier race.

The night before the Sunland Derby, there will be a gala benefiting United Blood Services. The keynote speaker will be NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, while noted equine artist Fred Stone is scheduled to be in attendance to unveil a painting of Peppers Pride.