03/10/2008 11:00PM

Liberty Bull tries to outrun his pedigree


Tom Amoss is playing an angle. Knowing that the WinStar Derby is not a graded race - and therefore, by definition, not a major prep for the Kentucky Derby - the veteran trainer has sent Liberty Bull all the way from New Orleans for a $600,000 race to be run Sunday at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

"We fully recognize that the WinStar is a non-graded race, and it doesn't help our chances of getting into any of the Triple Crown races," said Amoss, who trains Liberty Bull for Ken Maier. "But you'd have to think that makes it a softer spot than it'd be otherwise. I think our horse would be in the same boat as the other contenders in there, and that is, let's see how he runs before we need to concern ourselves about getting too serious about the Triple Crown."

Sunland racing secretary Norm Amundson acknowledged the difficulty of attracting bona fide Kentucky Derby contenders without a grade. Earnings in ungraded races are not credited toward eligibility in case more than 20 horses are entered in the Kentucky Derby.

"We've got the richest non-Derby prep in the country, so we've been fighting this for a few years now," Amundson said. "It's a Catch-22. We've been told the race doesn't have enough depth, but without a grade, the horses aren't going to come and you're not going to get that depth, regardless of how much you're giving away. Obviously, it's a great concern."

Given those circumstances, the prospective field is typified by Liberty Bull, who as of Tuesday was one of about 10 3-year-olds under consideration for the 1 1/8-mile WinStar Derby. Liberty Bull, said Amoss, "has run very well at a two-turn distance of a mile, but 1 1/8 miles is a big question mark for us. He has a pedigree definitely slanted toward sprinting," being by Holy Bull out of a Dehere mare.

In his last two starts, both one-mile races at Oaklawn Park, Liberty Bull won the Jan. 21 Smarty Jones Stakes, then was a closing third in the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes.

"It was a pleasant surprise when he won the Smarty Jones," Amoss said. "We're hoping he's one who's going to outrun his pedigree and get the 1 1/8 miles Sunday."

Liberty Bull, with Eddie Razo to ride, should vie for favoritism with Winsome Charm, a Jeff Mullins-trained colt who most recently finished second in a Santa Anita allowance after running second in the Sunshine Millions Dash.

Other known prospects include Ez Dreamer, No Jepordy, Cape Time, Capetown Royal, Banker's Way, Deputyville, and Screen to Screen. Several of those will have been supplemented for a $10,000 fee, most notably Ez Dreamer, the runner-up to Nikki'sgoldensteed in the Feb. 9 Turf Paradise Derby last out. Also, trainer Steve Asmussen, who has 20 of the 123 original nominees, is expected to have one or two starters, with Poni Colada and Ablaze With Spirit being logical possibilities.

This will be the sixth running of the WinStar Derby, which is scheduled to be televised live on TVG. The most notable prior winner was Thor's Echo, who was not a Triple Crown factor after winning in 2005 but later became an Eclipse champion by capturing the 2006 Breeders' Cup Sprint.

WinStar, the Kentucky breeding powerhouse, is offering a $500,000 bonus for a sweep of the WinStar, Santa Anita, and Kentucky derbies.

The WinStar Derby anchors what is easily the richest program of the year at Sunland, which is located just west of El Paso, Texas, in south-central New Mexico. Also on tap for Sunday are the $200,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies; the $100,000 Harry W. Henson Breeders' Cup Handicap, for older fillies and mares at a mile; and the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby, for 3-year-old statebreds at a mile.

Leading contenders for the Oaks are a pair of California shippers, Grace Anatomy and Distorted Passion. The 2007 WinStar Oaks winner, Tough Tiz's Sis, figures as a heavy choice in the Henson BC.

Entries for the Sunday card were to be drawn Wednesday.