03/23/2015 11:03AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Sunland Derby

Coady Photography
Firing Line wins the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, earing a Beyer Speed Figure of 97.

Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Sunland Park, March 22, 2015
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Firing Line
Trainer: Simon Callaghan
Jockey: Gary Stevens
Owner: Arnold Zetcher LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 97

This was the last of the group of Kentucky Derby preps worth 85 points overall (50 to the winner), and it showcased the depth and strength of the Southern California-based 3-year-olds, for FIRING LINE made a mockery of this race after escaping the literal and figurative shadow of the hulking Dortmund.

Firing Line faced just six rivals in the Sunland Derby, only one of whom – TIZNOW R J – had even placed in a graded stakes race. It was a significant step down in class for Firing Line, and he made the most of it, picking up a $400,000 winner’s check and an automatic berth into the Kentucky Derby on May 2.

After an elongated post parade in which he kept his cool, Firing Line reared a bit in the starting gate a few moments before the field was sent away, but he broke perfectly fine and went up from his rail draw to set or force the pace along with WHY TWO and, farther out, MALIBU MOGUL. Down the backstretch, DIRT MONSTER and PAIN AND MISERY ranged up outside, and with 4 1/2 furlongs to go they were five abreast across the track.

Stevens niggled at Firing Line approaching the far turn, and he began to inch away from his rivals. Firing Line widened on the turn and poured it on down the stretch, with Stevens largely handling him as if out for a morning canter. Stevens gave Firing Line one light tap with the whip left-handed at midstretch, then let him coast the rest of the way for the easiest of wins.

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

The victory proved Firing Line could handle at least 1 1/8 miles, for he attended a hot pace and still had plenty left. The competition will be much stronger next time, but it was encouraging that he finished well and wasn’t acting as though the distance was getting to him.

Firing Line will now have six weeks off until the Kentucky Derby. There are two schools of thought regarding how this final prep will ready him for the task ahead. The negative view is that the final prep is too far out and that he didn’t get enough of a test out of this race. The positive view is that the timing, for this horse, is ideal and that he was battle-tested already. I’m in the latter camp.

Every horse is different. Just because one method of preparation worked for one horse for the Kentucky Derby doesn’t mean it works for all. Firing Line had seven weeks between the Los Alamitos Futurity and Robert Lewis and ran the best race of his career, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 while dropping a head decision to Dortmund. He had six weeks until the Sunland Derby and obviously ran well again. He will now have six weeks until the Kentucky Derby. He trains aggressively between starts, so there’s no problem keeping him on edge. He’s a willing worker, gallops with enthusiasm, and runs well with time between starts. For him, this is the best management.

As for this final prep not being enough of a test, certainly he was battle-tested in his two narrow losses to Dortmund. In fact, in the Los Alamitos Futurity, Firing Line was repeatedly bumped from his inside by Mr. Z the final three furlongs, but bravely kept to his task and just missed while racing between horses through the lane. In the Lewis, he finished more than 21 lengths clear of everyone else following a torrid stretch duel. He’s had his battles.

In my opinion, this was the best way to get Firing Line ready for the Kentucky Derby, and it gives him his best chance for success on May 2. If he doesn’t win the Kentucky Derby, it won’t be because he had too much time off between starts or wasn’t battle-tested – it will be because he wasn’t good enough.

There weren’t any Derby contenders chasing him on this day. WHERE’S THE MOON, who finished second, reared in the paddock and dropped jockey Luis Contreras, but behaved himself thereafter. He broke a step slowly, was on the rail behind Firing Line heading into the first turn, but then dropped back to last as the field swung into the backstretch. He rallied along the rail for much of the far turn before going outside Tiznow R J at the quarter pole, was on his wrong lead in upper stretch, but was able to persevere for the place.

Pain and Misery was fourth paths wide around the first turn and ended up five wide down the backstretch after Dirt Monster came up inside him. He wound up four paths wide on the far turn, kept plugging away, and out-finished Tiznow R J for third.

Tiznow R J, who finished fourth, continues to disappoint. He appeared to have no excuse in his prior start, the Risen Star, and failed to make an impact here despite a scenario that seemed tailor-made for him to finish second. He raced between horses while in the two path heading into the first turn, wound up in an ideal stalking position behind the five-abreast charge down the backstretch, got to the rail and followed Firing Line around the far turn to get into second, was late to swap leads in upper stretch, then had zero punch down the lane and yielded second and then third.

Dirt Monster, who was fifth, trailed into the first turn but moved up between rivals and wound up four paths wide entering the backstretch. He began to fade three furlongs out, was put to aggressive handling on the far turn, but had nothing.

Why Two, who was sixth, stirred a bit in the gate prior to the start but broke best of all, set or pressed the hot early pace while immediately outside Firing Line, could not keep pace with the winner on the far turn, and dropped out of it.

Malibu Mogul finished last of seven after pressing the early pace while outside of both Firing Line and Why Two. He was done with three furlongs to go and was virtually eased through the stretch, finishing more than 57 lengths behind the winner.

Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
They ALL have questions at a mile and a quarter on May 2nd. Nowadays training seems more important than pedigree. Carson City is the Broodmare Sire of the most impressive, easy, never even set down KD victory I've seen in 50 years.
Thomas Reynolds More than 1 year ago
I do not believe he can go 1 1/4 and his trip in the Sunland was perfect against a field of $100k handicaps horses
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
Im sure chapa will be cheering him on from his cell.
Mark Oleary More than 1 year ago
Just stay sound baby, that' s all I ask of the racing Gods because the racetracks of the world are littered with horses just like this, and they, the connections and the public have been denied greatness. So many hopes and dreams dashed by bad luck, crappy weather, unsoundness, you name it. I've been on the backstretch for almost 30 years and I've seen it all, and compared to the old salts, I'm a neophyte. Tough game. Really tough game!
Mary Sivak More than 1 year ago
Just wait for far from over
tommy More than 1 year ago
There's no way I'm getting 35-1 on firing line. I am so stupid I didn't do the future kentucky derby win bet on him! I should have thrown $10 to win at least since I loved him then, and I love him even more!!!!
Tim Sr. More than 1 year ago
This was your post 45 days ago after the Lewis..............."The east coast have amazing horses this year for the derby which are up start, frosted, el kabier, carpe diem, conquest typhoon, BAyerd, nasa, blue grass singer!!! The east will be the west in all triple crown races!!!!!! Doesn't sound like love to me........sounds like you change your mind more than your underwear.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
if you read all his posts you can clearly see he has issues but yes he does change his mind especially right after a race has run.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Hilarious! What did Tommy ever do to you all?
tommy More than 1 year ago
Meydan Saturday!!!! I will be betting on maftool and mubtaahij in Dubai derby!!! I also will be betting on prince bishop , African story, California chrome, and a japan horse in big race!!! I also will be betting on the turf and the sprint races!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
just keep reading his posts. he has issues. Metal plate in head? Too many drugs? Low self esteem? gambling problems? I don't know? He is really annoying though. He said if pushed Firing Line would have won in 1.42 flat for the mile and 8th. track record time is 147.1 he just won't shut the F up.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Hi Timmy !!! You have a crazy statement up there which is inaccurate and some of it is true!!! I did say that the Dubai horses will dominate the kentucky derby, make a track record, and win by over 10 lengths!!! From the horses you listed above, I like el kabier and I never heard of nasa!! I also don't like Dortmund and upstart. I like materiality, far from over , carpe diem, el kabier, firing line, international star, maftool, mubtaahij !!!
tommy More than 1 year ago
Maybe Timmy JR. Posted that, not me !!!!
Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
I've changed my mind on Firing Line, as I previously did on Dortmund. It wasn't the quality of the field he beat, it was the ease in which he did it. Which even complements Dortmund all that much more. Now, I've just got to sort out my top colt out of Upstart, Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Firing Line. And 3 of them will have another race, so we'll see what happens then. I have got to see a big improvement from both Upstart and Carpe Diem to keep them in the mix. From what I hear from the pedigree experts so far is that Upstart would have the best pedigree of these colts to get 1 1/4 miles, but I think that's a little educated guess that you take with a grain of salt. imo as of now, not much separating these four colts. I think the time off racing and no workouts will catch up with American Pharoah, if not before, then in the Derby.
Steve Gibson More than 1 year ago
Bellamy Road all over again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
just like Verrazano
Steve Gibson More than 1 year ago
Won't ever come close to getting 1 1/4, bookmark this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
His race and beyer ratings remind me of American Paharoah and Carp Diem. Paid workouts and easily done. This Kentucky Derby just might be a good one headed by the west.