02/24/2011 2:50PM

Much-improved Special Kid seeks to move forward again in Borderland Derby

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Special Kid appears to have stepped up his game since he began racing on dirt two races back, which will serve him well on Saturday when he makes his first start outside of Southern California in the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park.

But there’s more to the story than a surface switch. Special Kid was gelded two starts ago, and since that point has begun to run to his potential, said his trainer, Doug O’Neill.

“It kind of matured him,” O’Neill said. “We started to see in the afternoon what we’d seen in the mornings. He’s been a horse that always displayed exceptional talent.”

Special Kid will get his first real test in the Borderland Derby, a 1 1/16-mile race that serves as the local prep for the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby on March 27. That race is a goal for Special Kid, who earlier in his career ran against the likes of future Grade 1 winner Jaycito.

“If he runs a big race and comes out of it good, we’d stay for the Sunland Derby,” said O’Neill, who twice has won the race, with Excessivepleasure in 2003 and Thor’s Echo in 2005.

Special Kid on Saturday will attempt to give O’Neill his second Borderland win when he takes on nine others, including Triple Crown nominee Fusa Code, whom he defeated in a maiden special weight earlier this month at Santa Anita. Special Kid tracked the pace and pounced in the 1 1/16-mile race Feb. 3, and earned a career-high Beyer Figure of 75. He will break from post 3 for his first start since then, under Christian Santiago-Reyes.

“He’s pretty versatile,” O’Neill said. “If there’s not a lot of pace, he can be forwardly placed.”

Fusa Code, who in his last start was third by a half-length to Special Kid, and Expecting Cash, who exits a third-place finish in the $250,000 Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs in January, represent trainer Steve Asmussen in the Borderland. Trainer Henry Dominguez will also have a pair in the race. Orion Xpress enters off a maiden special weight sprint win and figures to be prominent from his rail post. R Skydiver, who has placed in three stakes, will remove blinkers and might get a tracking trip Saturday.

Behold de Buy is the lone stakes winner in the field. Last year, he captured the $100,000 Gold Rush Futurity at Arapahoe Park.