03/22/2013 1:49PM

Sunland Derby may turn into match of Baffert runners

Barbara D. Livingston
Shakin It Up (left) and Govenor Charlie have worked out together on multiple occasions. On Sunday they will race against each other in the Sunland Derby.

As the only graded stakes winner in the field, Shakin It Up is the most accomplished horse in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby on Sunday at Sunland Park, but he will be making his first start around two turns while coming out of a race whose form is debatable.

Where else to look? Perhaps not that far away.

Govenor Charlie, Shakin It Up’s stablemate in Bob Baffert’s barn, might actually have more upside, what with this being only his third start. It is his first start against winners, having won a maiden race last time out at Santa Anita, but he has gone two turns, and, perhaps as a preview of coming attractions, he appeared to be going the better of Shakin It Up when both colts had their final Sunland Derby workout in tandem on Monday at Santa Anita.

But this isn’t just an intramural battle. There are seven others in the Sunland Derby, including Abraham, from the seemingly bottomless 3-year-old well of trainer Todd Pletcher, and the first three finishers – Dry Summer, Show Some Magic, and Stormdriver – from the Mine That Bird Derby, Sunland’s major prep for the Sunland Derby.

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It will be decided out in the west Texas town of El Paso – actually, just across the border in New Mexico – and while the winner won’t fall in love with a Mexican girl, he will earn a berth in the starting field for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. The Sunland Derby is worth 85 points overall under the new system put in place this year by Churchill Downs to determine eligibility to the Derby, and the 50 points that go to the winner will undoubtedly be above the threshold needed to get in.

Shakin It Up won the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on Feb. 17, his first start in nearly three months. The second-place finisher in that race, Treasury Bill, never fired in last week’s Rebel, but fourth-place finisher War Academy subsequently was an impressive allowance winner at Santa Anita.

How will Shakin It Up do stretching out to 1 1/8 miles?

“We don’t know. That’s why we’re going there,” Baffert said. “It’s always a shaky proposition, going long with a 3-year-old for the first time.”

Govenor Charlie has come a long ways in a short amount of time. He was second sprinting in his debut Jan. 19 to the wickedly fast Let Em Shine, then was a determined winner Feb. 17 in a maiden race against Footbridge, who won next time out last Sunday.

“He’s a really good horse,” Baffert said. “He deserves a shot. That last race was pretty gutty. Footbridge is a nice horse.”

Shakin It Up and Govenor Charlie are closely related. Both are by Midnight Lute and are out of unraced dams who are daughters of the champion filly Silverbulletday.

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Abraham’s career, thus far confined to Gulfstream Park, mirrors that of Govenor Charlie. He lost his debut sprinting on Jan. 17, then stretched out and beat maidens on Feb. 16.

“He was green when he broke his maiden,” Pletcher said. “He lacks experience, but hopefully he makes up for that with his natural talent, and that gives him the possibility for improvement.”

Dry Summer, who began his career in Southern California, is 2 for 2 at Sunland this year, giving him the home-court advantage.

“He likes it here,” said Joel Marr, who has trained Dry Summer since he was sent to New Mexico. “He’s not a big work horse. When you work him, you wonder what went wrong, but he runs good every time.”

Show Some Magic and Stormdriver were second and third, respectively, behind Dry Summer in the Mine That Bird. Both have chased Dry Summer unsuccessfully twice this meet.

Mudflats was fifth behind Shakin It Up in the San Vicente. He was well beaten in his only start around two turns at Aqueduct, but trainer Doug O’Neill remains hopeful he can improve.

“He’s a quirky horse, and I’m glad Edwin Maldonado got to know him last time,” O’Neill said. “He’s breezed really well lately. We’ve had him in California for a while now, so with good weather we’ve been able to train him every day, as opposed to New York, where you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

Just Win Baby, named for the catchphrase of the late Raiders boss Al Davis, and Saint Prado both are coming off maiden wins at Santa Anita. Saint Prado was returning from an eight-month layoff for his race, and finished well in front of Just Win Baby, who was making his debut that day and won next time out.

All Sunland Derby starters carry 122 pounds

The Sunland Derby is the 11th race on a 12-race card that begins at 1 p.m. Mountain time. It is one of seven stakes, worth $1.4 million, to be run at Sunland on Sunday, including the Sunland Oaks, whose point value – 85 overall, 50 for first – should assure the winner a starting berth in the Kentucky Oaks on May 3.

The Derby also is the final leg of an all-stakes pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $50,000. The preceding legs are the $75,000 Bill Thomas Memorial for sprinters, the $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby, and the Sunland Oaks. The entire card will be streamed live at www.drf.com.

In addition, Daily Racing Form will hold a handicapping seminar beginning at 11 a.m. in the track’s Signature Showroom.