03/25/2011 3:44PM

Sunland: Baffert, Garcia team up in three stakes on Sunland Derby program

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Jockey Martin Garcia and trainer Bob Baffert have the Sunland Oaks favorite in Plum Pretty.

Jockey Martin Garcia had exceptional success winning stakes across the country last year on Bob Baffert-trained horses, chief among them champion Lookin At Lucky. Their run also extended to New Mexico, and on Sunday the pair will again be out in full force during the richest card of racing at Sunland Park.

Garcia and Baffert will team with three starters on the six-stakes card, led by probable favorite Plum Pretty in the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks. American Story, meanwhile, goes in the $100,000 Harry Henson, a race Garcia and Baffert won last year with Freedom Star. Their other starter is Sinai, who makes his two-turn debut in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby. Last year, Garcia and Baffert were second in the race with Conveyance.

Garcia, 26, is based in Southern California. But he won stakes last year in such states as Arkansas, Maryland, New York, Indiana, New Jersey, and Texas. And this year has started off just as strong for Garcia, as his first out-of-town trip resulted in a win aboard the Baffert-trained The Factor in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.

“I like to be on the road because I’ve gotten to ride some really nice horses,” Garcia said. “Bob Baffert put me on those kinds of horses, those horses that take you out on the road. Everything is good horses. If you don’t have good horses, you don’t go anywhere.”

Pretty Plum could land Garcia in the winner’s circle in the Sunland Park Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile race that drew six fillies. She has placed in a pair of graded stakes from just three career starts, her latest effort a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes at a mile at Santa Anita on Feb. 5.

“She should like more distance,” Garcia said of Plum Pretty, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro who races for Peachtree Stable. “She’s been training so good. I’ve been working her.”

Plum Pretty closed for third in the Las Virgenes, but with the distance move and drop from graded competition, she could be with the pace Sunday. She used such tactics when she won a six-furlong maiden special weight race wire-to-wire in October. Plum Pretty then pressed the pace when third in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez in her first start of the year Jan. 15. She will break from post 5, which might give Garcia options Sunday.

“I would prefer for her to be wherever she’s happy,” he said. “She’s got a lot speed. She can stay close to the pace, or she could take the pace. She’s a good filly to ride.”

The field also includes Golden Springs, who won the local prep, the $50,000 Island Fashion, on Feb. 27. It was a career effort for Golden Springs, a daughter of Pomeroy who fought for a nose win over Formal Plan, who also returns in the Sunland Park Oaks. Joyce Salisbury trains Golden Springs, who is to be ridden by Kelsi Purcell.

Henson: American Story back from long break

American Story will be making her first start since October in the Harry Henson, a one-mile race for fillies and mares. When last seen in action, American Story was second to No Such Word in the $200,000 Remington Oaks on Oct. 10. Following that race, No Such Word won the Grade 1 Gazelle at Aqueduct. American Story, meanwhile, worked a bullet five furlongs in 59.60 seconds in her final prep for the Harry Henson.

Others set to start in the race include Hayley’s Halo, who has won her last four starts, and Twelve Twenty Two, who has won her last three races. Both fillies are trained by Henry Dominguez. Camille C is in from Santa Anita for trainer Marcelo Polanco, while Twist goes for trainer Shannon Ritter, who sent out Endorsement to win last year’s Sunland Park Derby.

◗ The other three stakes on the card – the $100,000 Breeders’ Derby, the $100,000 Breeders’ Oaks, and the $120,000 La Coneja – are restricted to horses bred in New Mexico.

◗ Sunland will also run an allowance named in honor of Mark Anthony Villa, the jockey who died in a spill last September.