03/23/2012 2:34PM

Sunland Park: Castaway, Daddy Nose Best square off in Sunland Derby

Shigeki Kikkawa
Castaway comes into the Grade 3 Sunland Derby off a win in a division of the Southwest Stakes.

As the Kentucky Derby preps move to 1 1/8 miles, distance can become a stumbling block for many 3-year-olds. But the trainers of both Castaway and Daddy Nose Best welcome the distance of Sunday’s Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby.

“I think Castaway will like the mile and an eighth,” Bob Baffert said.

“The distance definitely seems to suit Daddy Nose Best,” said Steve Asmussen.

Castaway is coming off a win in the one-mile Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, while Daddy Nose Best won the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in his last start.

The Sunland Park Derby is the richest race of the meet at the New Mexico track that houses 725 slot machines. The race anchors a card of seven stakes worth $1.6 million. The program includes the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, which drew the undefeated Princess Arabella for Baffert and the promising Glinda the Good for Asmussen. Also on the card, Twelve Twenty Two will attempt to run her Sunland record to 7 for 7 when she defends her title in the $100,000 Harry Henson. The corresponding program a year ago drew an ontrack crowd of 18,571 and lifted Sunland Park, as well as the state, to an all-time live handle mark of $2,963,240.

“It’s a welcomed day here,” said Henry Dominguez, a perennial leading trainer in New Mexico who has Isn’t He Clever in the Sunland Derby. “It brings a better quality of racing to the state, and more quality racing, that’s what attracts the bettors.”

The Sunland Derby was first graded in 2010, a year after Mine That Bird ran fourth in the race and then sprung a 50-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby. Last year, the Sunland Derby produced another classic winner when third-place finisher Ruler On Ice went on to capture the Belmont Stakes.

This season, a field of eight will be chasing a first-place check of $400,000 in graded earnings. In addition to Castaway and Daddy Nose Best, the field includes Isn’t He Clever, who won the local prep, the $150,000 Borderland Derby; Tequila Factor, who won the third stakes race of his career last out at Turf Paradise; Ender Knievel, a recent maiden winner at Gulfstream Park for trainer Todd Pletcher; and Stirred Up, a recent maiden winner at Santa Anita for Baffert.

Daddy Nose Best won his first stakes in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 18. He was up for a nose win under regular rider Julien Leparoux and for the effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 93, which is the best last-race number in the Sunland Derby.

“He ran excellent,” said Asmussen, who trains Daddy Nose Best for Bob and Cathy Zollars. “Julien gave him a great trip, and he was good enough to win. And I love how he came out of the race.”

Asmussen said the timing and purse of the Sunland Derby makes it an attractive target for Daddy Nose Best. He said the distance was appealing, too. The horse will be moving back to dirt Sunday after his synthetic-track win at Golden Gate.

Daddy Nose Best will break from post 6 and might get an ideal stalking trip behind Castaway, a front-runner who drew the rail; Ender Knievel, who will be stretching out to two turns after winning his maiden in a one-turn mile race; and Isn’t He Clever, who could press both of those horses from the outside. Leparoux again has the mount on Daddy Nose Best, who is a son of Scat Daddy.

Castaway has stepped up his game since moving to two turns. He won a maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles in his second route start Jan. 21 at Santa Anita. Castaway set a strong pace and went on to a clear win in a quick 1:41.80, a performance Baffert said led to the horse’s start in the Grade 3 Southwest on Feb. 20. Castaway rewarded his trainer’s confidence, taking the first division of the one-mile race, despite breaking from post 11. He raced with the pace before drawing away from his rivals by 3 3/4 lengths, earning a career-high Beyer of 92.

“He looked like he was really getting strong on the end,” said Baffert, who trains Castaway for Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith.

Rafael Bejarano, who was aboard Castaway in the Southwest, has the mount in the Sunland Derby.

Isn’t He Clever will be making his first start beyond 1 1/16 miles on Sunday.

“He’s bred to go the distance,” Dominguez said. “On the bottom side, he’s bred to go on out, and he’s by Smarty Jones, and hopefully that will help him go on in the end. And he finishes in his works and what not. He always finishes well. It’s not like he can’t wait to get to the finish line and get over and done with. Whenever you ask him, he responds.”

Isn’t He Clever is 2 for 2 at Sunland, having won the Borderland on Feb. 25 as well as the track’s Riley Allison Futurity on Dec. 30. In between those starts, he shipped to Santa Anita and finished fifth in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis on Feb. 4. Luis Contreras has the mount for J. Kirk and Judy Robison.

The Sunland Derby is the 12th of 13 races, with a scheduled post of 5:45 p.m. Mountain.

Sunland Derby (G3), Post Time: 5:45 MT Sunday

Purse: $800,000; 1 1/8 mile





ML Odds



B. Baffert

R. Bejarano



Ender Knievel

T. Pletcher

J. Velazquez



Stirred Up

B. Baffert

M. Garcia



Isn't He Clever

H. Dominguez

L. Contreras



No Spin

T. Ice

C. Hill



Daddy Nose Best

S. Asmussen

J. Leparoux



Tequila Factor

C. Wilson

M. Hernandez




D. Wolochuk

R. Eikleberry



Venetian Sonata

W. Helmbrecht

J. Vargas