03/22/2013 3:10PM

Sunland: Isn't He Clever primed for peak effort in Bill Thomas sprint

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Lisa Dominguez/Coady Photography
Isn't He Clever, shown winning the 2012 Borderland Derby, will make the second start of his form cycle in Sunday's Bill Thomas Memorial at six furlongs.

It was a year ago this week that Isn’t He Clever established himself as the top 3-year-old in New Mexico with his runner-up finish in the Sunland Derby. Fast forward to Sunday, and he is a leading candidate to win the top sprint race held at Sunland Park.

The $75,000 Bill Thomas Memorial is a 6 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up. It is one of one of seven stakes on the $1.4 million Sunland Derby Day card, and serves as the first leg of an all-stakes, $50,000 guaranteed pick four that runs on races 8-11. The sequence includes the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks and the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby.

Isn’t He Clever won last year’s Borderland Derby then was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Daddy Nose Best in the Sunland Derby. He made three more starts in graded races in Arkansas, New York, and New Jersey and then got back in the win column upon returning to New Mexico for the $50,000 Ruidoso Thoroughbred Derby. He won by 13 lengths in what was his 3-year-old finale Sept. 1. The Bill Thomas will be the second start of the year for Isn’t He Clever.

“He’s come back well,” said Henry Dominguez, who trains the horse for J. Kirk and Judy Robison. “He had shins that were nagging him towards the latter part of the year. We turned him out and brought him back. He’s grown, matured, and put on some weight. We expect good things from him this year.”

Isn’t He Clever was third in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance that went in a quick 1:03.40 in his seasonal debut Feb. 23. The added ground the horse picks up in the Bill Thomas will suit him, said Dominguez.

“When he was a 2-year-old he won the Riley Allison going 6 1/2 furlongs, before they stretched it out to a mile,” Dominguez said of the longtime stakes run at Sunland. “He’s coming up to this race really well. We expect a good race from him.”

Dominguez said in time the goal is to move back to two turns with Isn’t He Clever. The horse will break from the rail on Sunday, and with several of his rivals turning back in distance he might get a nice stalking trip behind probable pacesetters Dollarwaitnonadime and Safe Trip.

Luis Contreras will ride Isn’t He Clever.

African Rose tops Harry Henson

African Rose will start as the 121-pound highweight in the $75,000 Harry Henson, a one-mile race for fillies and mares that starts the stakes action on the 12-race card. African Rose won the allowance prep by a head after setting the pace in the race run March 3.

“If she has her head in front turning for home, she’s tough to get by,” said her trainer, Justin Evans. “Talk about one that does not want to get beat. She had her neck stretched out as far as she could to get to the wire first last time.

“Hopefully, she runs the same race she did the other day. She came out of that race good and happy.”

African Rose, a winner of 7 of 15 starts, races for Judge Lanier Racing Stable.

Evans, who is the leading trainer at Sunland, has given the mount to Miguel Hernandez.

Back Seat Roll stretches out for New Mexico Oaks

The three-time stakes winner Back Seat Roll is moving back to two-turns, site of her last win, in the $85,000 New Mexico Breeders Oaks. The 1 1/16-mile race is restricted to 3-year-old fillies bred in New Mexico.

Back Seat Roll won four straight races, including the $85,000 Enchantress at a mile at Sunland, leading up to her last start, when she finished second in the $85,000 La Senora at Sunland on Jan. 12.

“She’s training fantastic,” Dominguez said. “We didn’t have a prep race for her going into this race. It’s been almost 10 weeks since she’s run, but she tries real hard, and she’s won off layoffs before.

“She’s a hard-trying filly who just does everything we’ve asked her to do.”

Contreras has the mount for the Robisons.

◗ Storms Surprise stretches back out to two turns for the $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby at 1 1/16 miles, and the last time he routed he won the Red Hedeman Mile at Sunland.

◗ Rose’s Desert cuts back to one turn to defend her title in the $85,000 La Coneja, a 5 1/2-furlong race for fillies and mares bred in New Mexico.

◗ There will be live streaming video of the card at www.drf.com.