03/15/2008 11:00PM

Liberty Bull best in WinStar Derby

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Liberty Bull got a terrific stalking trip under Gerard Melancon when he surged past a pair of dueling front-runners, then drew clear to capture the $600,000 WinStar Derby on Sunday at Sunland Park.

Owned by Ken Maier and trained by Tom Amoss, Liberty Bull returned $8 as second choice in a field of nine 3-year-olds. Screen to Screen held well to finish second, two lengths behind the winner and a neck before late-running Ablaze With Spirit. No Jepordy finished fourth, another length back, while Winsome Charm, the 8-5 favorite, faded to last after tracking the pace.

Liberty Bull broke sharply from his far outside post to gain a nice position behind No Jepordy and Screen to Screen, a pair of California shippers who contested the pace from the start of the 1 1/8-mile WinStar Derby. Into the far turn, as several other chasers failed to launch a challenge, Liberty Bull crept closer from the outside, and by the time the field had straightened away, he clearly was the one to beat.

Down the stretch, with Melancon applying steady urging, Liberty Bull pulled clear for his third win from six career starts, finishing in 1:49.82 over a fast track.

"The race set up real nice for us, and the colt ran a great race," Amoss said from New Orleans.

Amoss said before the race that he did not necessarily consider Liberty Bull a serious candidate for the Kentucky Derby, and in brief post-race comments he did not seem inclined to find tougher sledding on the Derby trail. Liberty Bull is now eligible for a $500,000 bonus offered by Sunland for a sweep of the WinStar, Santa Anita, and Kentucky Derbies, but Amoss did not indicate that he will point the colt for the April 5 Santa Anita Derby

"We're delighted with the win, and I like the fact he got the 1 1/8 miles well." he said. "We'll probably make a decision on his next race in a few days."

The WinStar Derby is not a graded race and therefore earnings are not credited toward eligibility in case more than 20 are entered in the Kentucky Derby. Liberty Bull earned $300,000 for the victory. His two previous starts, both one-mile races at Oaklawn Park, resulted in a victory in the Smarty Jones and a third in the Southwest.

Amoss said Liberty Bull would be flown Tuesday to Lexington, Ky., spend a few days at Keeneland, then rejoin the bulk of the Amoss stable at Churchill Downs when they ship from the Fair Grounds at the end of the week.

Capetown Royal was an early scratch from an original field of 10.

The WinStar Derby anchored the richest program of the year at Sunland in south-central New Mexico. Three other stakes preceded the WinStar Derby. In those other races:

Sky Mom easy Oaks winner

Sky Mom ($5) survived an inquiry and objection after finishing 4 3/4 lengths clear of Snake Proof in an otherwise easy triumph in the $200,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks. Ridden by Garrett Gomez and trained by Steve Asmussen, Sky Mom finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.50. The Maria's Mon filly, owned by Heather Stark, was coming off a victory in the Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park.

Sky Mom ducked in at the eighth pole when making the lead, but the stewards ruled she did not cause interference to Snake Proof, whose jockey, Joe Martinez, had objected.

Sky Mom was the slight favorite in a field of seven 3-year-old fillies. R Charlie's Angel, the 3-1 third choice finished third, another 8 1/4 lengths back, while Grace Anatomy, the 9-5 second choice, faded badly to sixth.

Favored Tough Tiz's Sis takes Henson

Tough Tiz's Sis ($3.80), ridden by Aaron Gryder, proved a punctual favorite in the $112,950 Harry W. Henson Breeders' Cup Handicap, drawing off in midstretch before holding Nice Inheritance safe by three-quarters of a length.

Tough Tiz's Sis, based in California with trainer Bob Baffert, was returning to the site of one of her best previous races, having captured the Sunland Oaks last year. She finished a mile in 1:37.14.

* Run Like Fire ($6.40), ridden by Jorge Bourdieu Jr., outgamed Brax in the $100,000 New Mexico Derby for statebred 3-year-olds. Brax was slightly favored.