02/23/2012 4:40PM

Sunland: Isn't He Clever has license to improve in Borderland Derby


Isn’t He Clever, who tested graded stakes rivals last out in Southern California, has returned home to New Mexico for Saturday’s $150,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. The 1 1/16-mile race, which has received a purse boost of $50,000, is the local stepping-stone to the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby on March 25.

The Borderland will go with seven horses, among them Zackn’mat, a maiden special weight winner at Santa Anita last month for trainer Marty Jones, and Tequila Factor, a multiple stakes winner who last fall was 14th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

[MORE: Live video, PPs, previews for the Saturday card at Sunland Park]

Isn’t He Clever closed out his 2-year-old season at Sunland with an 11-length romp in the $104,000 Riley Allison Futurity on Dec. 30. He stalked the pace and earned a Beyer Figure of 97 for the performance, as well as a trip to Santa Anita to run in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis on Feb. 4. Isn’t He Clever finished fifth in that 1 1/16-mile a race, but was moved up to fourth via a disqualification. He ended up nine lengths behind the winner, I’ll Have Another.

“That was his first time around two turns,” said Henry Dominguez, who trains Isn’t He Clever for Kirk and Judy Robison. “He made the lead and he was probably a little more aggressive than we wanted him to be. We were hoping to sit behind a few horses. He didn’t. He had the one-hole, didn’t relax much at all.”

There are reasons to believe Isn’t He Clever will run a different kind of race Saturday. His equipment will be tweaked, and he’s not as fresh as he was going into the Lewis.

“We’re bringing him back with a smaller set of blinkers, where he can see a few more things,” said Dominguez, who will fit the horse with French-cup blinkers. “He’s also coming back for this race a little bit sooner than the time before. It was five weeks between races last time, and this time there’s only three. And, he’s going to be at home. He’s going to come right out of his own stall.

“I think he’ll be more relaxed.”

Alejandro Medellin has the mount on Isn’t He Clever, who will break from post 2. Isn’t He Clever, a son of Smarty Jones, has won 3 of 5 starts. He shipped from New Mexico to Oklahoma and ran second by a half-length in the $100,000 Clever Trevor at Remington Park in November.

Bob and Cathy Zollars and trainer Steve Asmussen will attempt to win the Borderland with a maiden for the second straight year. The connections did it with Fusa Code last meet, and for Saturday’s renewal have sent in the promising Major Hope, a son of Lemon Drop Kid.

“He’s a nice horse,” Asmussen said. “He’s coming out of some pretty good races at the Fair Grounds. He’s been a little less than perfectly lucky, and I think he’s going the right way.”

Roman Chapa, who has teamed with Asmussen to win three stakes over the last three weekends at Sam Houston, comes in to ride Major Hope. The horse will be making his fourth career start Saturday.


Borderland Derby, Post Time: 4:45 MT Saturday

Purse: $200,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds



M. Jones

H. Berrios



Isn't He Clever

H. Dominguez

A. Medellin



Strong Resolve

N. Koch

C. Lambert



So Far So Fast

H. Dominguez

E. Gomez



Tequila Factor

C. Wilson

L. Robletto




D. Wolochuk

R. Eikleberry



Major Hope

S. Asmussen

R. Chapa