03/24/2010 12:00AM

Nacho Friend settled in early for Sunland Derby


Kelly Leak won the Sunland Park Derby last year. Kelly Breen hopes it's his turn Sunday. Breen will send out top contender Nacho Friend in the Grade 3, $800,000 stakes that drew nine horses Wednesday.

The Sunland Derby is being run as a graded race for the first time and will be the richest of six stakes on the card. Purses for the meet's biggest program will total more than $1.4 million. The other premier race on the program is the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks led by Southern California shipper Ellafitz.

Nacho Friend flew into Sunland on March 14 in what has been something of a protocol with Breen's stakes shippers. The barn, which currently has a division in Florida, has made a point of sending its young stakes travelers to venues early. Bickersons headed to Southern California last year for a handful of races, finishing third in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf and winning the $100,000 Moccasin. West Side Bernie, meanwhile, shipped in early to Delta Downs in 2008 and ran a big second to Big Drama in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot.

Nacho Friend, who will break from post 2 under Joe Bravo, comes into the Sunland Derby off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct on March 6.

"I think with the little bit of an altitude here, it gets the horse acclimated to the area, to the weather, and gets him used to the track," said Breen, who trains Nacho Friend for George and Lori Hall. "It's a little bit of our thing. It's just what we like to do."

Nacho Friend had a chance to breeze at Sunland on March 21, going five furlongs in 1:02.20. He handled the track well, Breen said.

"It's a similar surface, I believe, to what he was training on at Palm Meadows," he said. "I don't think there's much of a difference to the surface at all. He shipped well. He's doing quite well."

Conveyance, who could go favored in the Sunland Derby off his sharp win in last month's Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest at Oaklawn, will break from post 3 under Martin Garcia.

The complete Sunland Derby field from the rail with riders is Storming Saint, Luis Contreras; Nacho Friend, Bravo; Conveyance, Garcia; McKenna's Justice, Ken Tohill; Endorsement, Robby Albarado; Classical Slew, Tyler Baze; Fog Alert, Alfredo Juarez Jr.; Guiltbyassociation, Isaias Enriquez; and Tempted to Tapit, David Cohen.