03/25/2013 12:49PM

Kentucky Derby berth assured, Govenor Charlie heads home

Coady Photography
Govenor Charlie, with Martin Garcia riding, wins the Sunland Derby, earning 50 eligibility points toward a Kentucky Derby berth.

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – Govenor Charlie was set to return to California on Tuesday following his victory here Sunday in the Sunland Derby, a race that earned him enough points to secure a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs and ended the round of Derby preps worth 50 points to the winner.

The waters get even deeper now.

The Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, and United Arab Emirates Derby – all to be run on a sensory overload Saturday this weekend – begin the most lucrative round of preps for the Derby, races worth 100 points to the winner, with 40 to second. There’s going to be a lot of scoreboard-watching now that there are fewer than six weeks to the Derby.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

But the connections of both Govenor Charlie and Black Onyx, who won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on Saturday, can relax for now. The 50 points earned by each under the new system put in place this year by Churchill Downs to determine eligibility should more than the maximum 20 runners enter the Derby – the norm in recent years – mathematically put them in the top 20, regardless of what happens in upcoming weeks.

“I got my first 50-point horse!” Bob Baffert, trainer of Govenor Charlie, said Sunday, referencing recent losses by heavy favorites Flashback in the San Felipe and Super Ninety Nine in the Rebel, both races worth 50 points to the winner.

Mike Pegram, who bred and owns Govenor Charlie, was initially circumspect regarding running in the Derby. Pegram is co-owner of the unbeaten filly Midnight Lucky, who a race earlier won the Sunland Park Oaks in a runaway to earn a starting spot in the Kentucky Oaks on May 3, and Pegram seemed far more bullish about running her in that race than Govenor Charlie in the Derby.

“The Derby’s the hardest race in the world to win,” Pegram said. “We all get Derby Fever, and I’ve got it right now.

“But losing the Derby’s no fun,” said Pegram, who owned 1998 Derby winner Real Quiet. “If he’s good enough, he’ll be there. It’ll be up to Bobby.”

Baffert said both Govenor Charlie and Midnight Lucky had come out of their races in good shape.

Govenor Charlie received a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 for his victory. Black Onyx got a 90. Midnight Lucky got a 94.

Martin Garcia, who rode Govenor Charlie, said he “felt like I had a lot of horse the whole way.”

“He’s a horse who feels like he waits on company, but when I asked him, he took off,” said Garcia, who will ride Code West for Baffert in the Louisiana Derby.

The track at Sunland was lightning-fast Sunday. Govenor Charlie set a track record of 1:47.54 for 1 1/8 miles, while Midnight Lucky set a record for 1 1/16 miles, and the sprinter Isn’t He Clever set a record for 6 1/2 furlongs. The previous track record for 1 1/8 miles, 1:48.20, was set in 1961.

Those weren’t the only records here. The all-sources handle of $3,820,986 for the 12-race card was a record for Sunland Park.

But the day could have ended tragically, if not for the remarkable job outrider Lupe Chavra did corralling a loose horse in the final race on the card, the race following the Sunland Derby.

Hastalavistatoots, starting from the inside post in a six-furlong race for $7,500 New Mexico-bred maiden-claimers, crashed through the temporary inner rail where the sprint chute merges with the main track. Hastalavistatoots dumped jockey J.C. Villanueva, then made a left-hand turn and started dashing the wrong way around the clubhouse turn.

Chavra, positioned on the main track near the turn’s six-furlong pole, was able to snare the loose horse quickly, averting the potential for a head-on collision with the remaining runners, or at least the likely abandonment of the race by track stewards. The runners finished the race without incident, and both Hastalavistatoots and Villanueva appeared to suffer no major injuries.