03/15/2007 11:00PM

Giving it a run for the money

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Law Breaker is in Sunday's WinStar Derby because of its $600,000 purse.

One key element already is in place at Sunland Park to attract 3-year-olds worthy of consideration for the Kentucky Derby: big money. And despite the race's lack of graded status, the $600,000 purse of the WinStar Derby helped draw several horses on the cusp of joining the Kentucky Derby trail.

The WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico, which will be run Sunday for the fifth time, drew a field of eight 3-year-olds, including several with what might be termed "fringe" credentials toward crashing a higher echelon of the division.

"Where we are right now is where we are," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who will send out the uncoupled duo of Forty Grams and Takedown in the 1 1/8-mile race. "You can't really be thinking [Kentucky] Derby right now, but the $600,000 - well, there it is. It's very attractive."

Graded earnings are the criteria that determine whether or not a horse makes the cut in case of an overflow Kentucky Derby field, so horsemen with serious interest in making the Kentucky Derby essentially are sacrificing a race at a critical juncture to run in the ungraded WinStar Derby.

That said, Forty Grams, with Garrett Gomez in from California to ride, figures prominently from the start of Sunday's richest race. A colt by Distorted Humor, Forty Grams has shown front-running tendencies in his previous races, including a 13-length allowance win at Fair Grounds in late January and a third-place finish last month in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

"He's fast, and that can be pretty effective at Sunland," said Asmussen.

Forty Grams figures to be challenged from the get-go by Law Breaker, a Bob Baffert-trained colt making his first start outside of California. Law Breaker has yet to run a bad race in four starts and enters off a gritty runner-up finish behind Noble Court in the Feb. 11 San Vicente at Santa Anita.

Law Breaker, said Baffert, "has a lot of guts. He always tries, and you always like to see that."

As for Law Breaker making that substantial leap into Derby consideration, Baffert said: "You can't rule anything out, but for me to go to the Derby anymore, they have to really impress me. Going to the Derby with just a horse is a tough spot."

In the meantime, Baffert said, "We're trying to make money. It's all about the capital, trying to keep our clients in the biz."

The unknown quantity of the WinStar field is Solemn Promise, a Florida shipper owned by the race sponsor itself. Solemn Promise is a Broken Vow colt who cost $375,000 when WinStar bought him a little more than a year ago at the Fasig-Tipton sales at Calder. He has raced just once, winning a six-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream impressively.

"He's light on seasoning, but I'll tell you, he has the right attitude about him," said the colt's trainer, Dale Romans.

Also in the field are four local runners: Congo Bay, Jack Hes Tops, Song of Navarone, and Game of Skill. Of those, Song of Navarone could be most capable, considering he contested the pace for much of the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 3 before settling for third behind Ravel and Liquidity.

With so much speed in the race, one more local runner - Takedown, a second Asmussen entry - might be the main beneficiary in the stretch. A Point Given colt, Takedown rallied to win a Dec. 26 allowance at Sunland, then scored a mild upset with similar tactics in the Feb. 17 Borderland Derby.

"He's got that home-field thing going for him," said Asmussen.

The WinStar Derby is scheduled to be shown live on ESPNews, with post time set for 4:45 p.m. Mountain. It is carded as the ninth of 12 races and is one of four stakes on Sunday at Sunland. The others are the $200,000 WinStar Sunland Oaks, the $150,000 Harry W. Henson Breeders' Cup Handicap, and the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby.