03/22/2015 8:17PM

Firing Line cruises to dominant Sunland Derby victory

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Coady Photography
Firing Line wins the Sunland Derby by 14 1/4 lengths Sunday at Sunland Park.

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – The strength and depth of California’s Kentucky Derby prospects looks even better when those horses ship out of town, and Firing Line certainly did his part to gloss that image Sunday with a runaway 14 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby here at Sunland Park.

The competition Firing Line faced was significantly inferior to what he had gone against in Southern California, where he dropped narrow decisions to the highly regarded Dortmund in his last two starts. That form made him the 1-5 favorite against six rivals, and he ran to those odds while earning a $400,000 payday and a berth in the May 2 Kentucky Derby with the 50 points that went to the winner.

“Well, we’re in,” said winning jockey Gary Stevens. “I’m in a great spot.”

Firing Line ($2.40) completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:47.39, a track record. The track was fast, but this was a legitimately good race.

It was similar to what American Pharoah – another Southern California-based runner – did eight days earlier in the Rebel at Oaklawn.

Firing Line landed the rail in the field of seven. He had company early from the likes of Why Two and Malibu Mogul through an opening quarter in 22.33 seconds and a half-mile in 45.39. He put those horses away and covered six furlongs in 1:09.12, began to widen on his opposition on the far turn, and coasted home.

Where’s the Moon, last early, got up for second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of the third-place Pain and Misery. Tiznow R  J was fourth and was followed in order by Dirt Monster, Why Two, and Malibu Mogul. The last two horses were the ones who tried to go with Firing Line early. They wound up more than 30 and 57 lengths in arrears, respectively, underscoring how well Firing Line ran.

“The manner in which he pulled away shows how good a horse he is,” said Simon Callaghan, who trains Firing Line for owner Arnold Zetcher.

The post parade was a long, drawn-out affair, which tested both horses and humans. Firing Line is far better in the mornings now than he once was in terms of deportment, and Stevens said he handled the post parade “better than I did.”

“The best thing about him is his mind,” Stevens said.

Callaghan praised both Stevens and exercise rider Paul Eddery for working with Firing Line over the last few months to get him to be more cooperative. There is the theory that Firing Line is better with a target, but because of his rail draw, Stevens and Callaghan decided not to play it cute.

“We felt he was the best horse, wanted to keep it simple,” Callaghan said.

“It wasn’t ideal, being drawn inside going a mile and an eighth,” Stevens said. “It looked a lot simpler than it was. He makes easy work of it.”

Firing Line lost to Dortmund by a head in both the Los Alamitos Futurity and Robert Lewis. By shipping here, he didn’t have to run in another gut-wrencher

“He’s been battle tested with Dortmund,” Stevens said. “It’s nice to get an easy one.”

Callaghan was happy about the spacing for the Sunland Derby, which fell six weeks from the Lewis and six weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby.

“And it was nice to have an easy ship out of California,” Callaghan said. “It was nice to get away without having to go too far.”

Based on the way Firing Line has run in his last two starts, he can be trained up to a race and fire his best shot. That is the approach his connections will take toward a Kentucky Derby, which has a field that looks better and better with every passing week.

Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
Was the guy calling the race smoking a cigar while calling? I could barely understand him.
antonio rispatti More than 1 year ago
Just a bad job by the video crew. I used to work the sound board, easy fix...
Mark Oleary More than 1 year ago
I would love to get 8 or 10 to 1 on him in the Derby!
Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
I'd say you will, at least. He will be a decent price to have been only beaten by a head by Dortmund, twice.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Firing Line is the real deal! Barring any health issues, he'll win quite a few quality G1 races before he is done.
Walter More than 1 year ago
He was beat by Dortmund twice by small margins. I believe Dortmund is an absolute monster and will improve by leaps & bounds. But I do give FL a lot of credit he won by 15, and in his previous race, he & Dortmund were 20 clear of the rest of that field. Firing Line could be the 2015 version of Alydar or Sham.
Mark Oleary More than 1 year ago
This was one of the easiest wins I've seen in a long time, and the 6 F time of 9 and change, and the final time of 1:47 and small change was spectacular. Granted the track was hard as a rock and the competition suspect, but give this horse his due, he looked like he was in a morning gallop as he easily drew away from the field. He's in good hands and having Gary Stevens as the pilot is a bonus.This quality animal has risen to the upper levelof my Derby lineup.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Lets start by stating the obvious first. this horse could not have won any easier than he did. He sure made DORTMUND look good on paper. And he beat a weak field. now for the nuanced look the sunland derby is notoriously friendly to speed horses ENDORCEMENT and CONVEYANCE went one two around the track.CHITO is another example of a miler who was able too stretch out at sunland . the quality of the race has with one exception not held up well in the derby.does anybody remember DADDY NOSE BEST,GOVERNOR CHARLIE how about KELLEY LEAK ,TWICE THE APPEAL, LIBERTY BULL, SONG OF NAVARONNE, WANNA RUNNER, THORS ECHO.all previous winners. the exception MINE THAT BIRD who won on a sloppy track at 50/1. I would ignore this race and focus on the two race FIRING LINE before when a very close 2nd to DORTMUND. my impression was that he was never going to beat DORTMUND at the derby distance but if DORTMUND is a monster and superior to the other top 3yos like AMERICAM PHAROH, UPSTART, CARPE DIEM.INTERNATIONAL STAR.Then this horse could hit the board in the derby..but that's a big if .we will find out a lot more in the coming weeks. right now the horses mentioned here are head and shoulders above the rest and seem to be a tough bunch .with the likes of EL KEBIER.not too far behind.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Sunland derby winners never amount to much. Mine that bird ran evenly around the sunland track and finished 4th. Ruler on ice ran evenly and finished 3rd in the sunland. He skipped the derby and won the belmont. Did you notice that firing line acted up in the gate ?
Ken Herlich More than 1 year ago
nice horse but what he running against?
mike More than 1 year ago
Other horses.
Tim Sr. More than 1 year ago
Well true he didn't run against anything of quality. Do you have something negative to say about his performance. He's displayed his quality against the best on the west coast in his two races against Dortmund. You remember him? He has the class to contend at CD on the first Saturday in May. He's improved every time he's run, and he will continue to improve in the next six weeks. I think he is a very dangerous horse in the Derby.
Ken Herlich More than 1 year ago
hey Tim Dortmund is why he skipped the Santa Anita Derby a very smart move we will see his best in Kentucky
tommy More than 1 year ago
He is running against distance over time which is very hard to do. He was running against the previous track record which he broke and made his own track record!! He was running against Dortmund , and now Dortmund has to run and win the Santa Anita derby better than 1:47 flat which will be very hard to do! It looks like firing line or materiality will have the 1 1/8 track record going into derby !!
Ken Herlich More than 1 year ago
time only counts in jail
Johnny Matheis More than 1 year ago
So far, we've seen speed and almost no closing, and Firing Line is very speed bred. His dosage of 3.0 is very generous. Dubai Sky also is given a generous rating for his speed pedigree. Plus few of the big contenders now are bred to be late bloomers. This is shaping up to be a weak Derby field with the lead money winners. Of course, if Churchill's track doesn't see much rain the opening week, the track will be super hard and fast with a super speed bias, so one of these bred for a mile could steal it, but right now there are too many of them, with no closers. Got to expect that to change after Arkansas, Blue Grass, Florida, and Wood, et al.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cape Diem can sit back. He has every race he has been in.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Johnny, I respectfully disagree. This crop is very good. A good quality horse can be placed where the jock wants him. If that horse is simply faster than the others, he might just be the speed horse in the race. That doesn't mean he can't close if ridden that way. Note, I'm talking about a quality animal. Sure, if a true speed horse runs off early in the Kentucky Derby...that happens, but that animal won't win that race anyway if he goes too fast....which is why the Derby winner usually is great quality. If you remember, like way back in the Los Al race with Dortmund and Firing Line...they didn't go to the lead. It's true, in the backstretch they went, but they were just way faster than the others. All I'm saying is I read a lot of folks on here think that if the speed horse wins it's just because of a speed bias, but if a closer wins then they were the best. It's funny. Most speed horses are just faster than the others....don't think they can't sit back.....the good ones can. That's what makes the Derby so awesome...we get to pick and then watch who can.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Frank!!!!! This years kentucky derby field is much stronger than last year. Firing line is a monster but I won't play a win bet on him unless he's 20-1. If any horse I like is 20-1, I will play a win bet. But so far the best horses are materiality, firing line, international star, carpe diem, far from over ( I know this horse made you money so you owe him respect to include him, plus I like him a lot ) , el kabier, maftool and mubtaahij ( best Dubai horses ) , and I will put either American pharaoh or prospect park. Those horses I have first and 2nd and I have other horses which belong for 3rd and 4th in superfecta!! But frank do you think if a 20-1 long shot wins the derby if the pick 3 will pay a huge amount?? I've researched the 3 pasted derby and the pick 3 paid nothing!!
Mike Lee More than 1 year ago
I thought the nicely bred Where's The Moon ,playing in a home game,would really challenge Firing Line..uh,not so! ...Firing Line is the REAL DEAL...with six weeks to prepare,he should fair really well in the Kentucky Derby!