03/23/2014 8:17PM

Sunland Park Derby: Chitu heads one-two finish for Baffert

Coady Photography
Chitu, ridden by Martin Garcia, scores by 2 1/4 lengths as the favorite in the Sunland Park Derby.

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – Chitu looks like a Quarter Horse, what with his big, blocky behind. And he’s bred like a sprinter, being by Henny Hughes. But when it comes to going two turns, what he shows on the outside is not reflected by what’s on the inside, for this is a horse whose determination has carried him quite far.

How far? Perhaps as far as the May 3 Kentucky Derby, for on Sunday at Sunland Park, Chitu  earned 50 points – oh, and a $400,000 winner’s share – by holding off stablemate Midnight Hawk to take the Grade 3, $800,110 Sunland Derby before a track-record crowd 18,642.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Both Chitu and Midnight Hawk are trained by Bob Baffert, who won this race last year with Govenor Charlie and has now won it three times overall. Martin Garcia, who rode Chuti, also was on Govenor Charlie.

Chitu ($5.80) was favored based on his second-place finish behind the highly regarded Candy Boy, and in front of Midnight Hawk, in the Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 8 at Santa Anita. That 1 1/16-mile race was his first try around two turns after a pair of wins going six furlongs.

On Sunday, he stretched out to 1 1/8 miles, rated behind front-running Garen for the first part of the race, surged to the lead entering the lane, and put away Midnight Hawk before drawing away late to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

Midnight Hawk finished 4 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Commissioner, who stumbled at the start and, according to jockey John Velazquez, pulled off a front shoe.

Rebranded was fourth and was followed, in order, by Bourbonize, Global Strike, Garen, Tanzanite Cat, and Lawly’s Goal.

Chitu completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:47.88.

“He just keeps getting better and better,” said Jim Barnes, the Baffert assistant who saddled his stable’s runners here on Sunday.

Chitu started from the outside in the field of nine. Garcia said that post gave him options that he was happy to utilize.

“That was a really good post for my horse,” Garcia said. “If I was inside, I probably would have rushed to be closer. Today, I didn’t have to hurry. I let him break, then I sit chilly.”

Garen, starting from post 2, set off for the lead and posted fractions of 23.24 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.46 for the half-mile. Chitu stalked him from the outside, and then Midnight Hawk engaged those two while three lanes wide and put his head in front at the six-furlong mark in a swift 1:09.60.

Garen yielded, and then Chitu and Midnight Hawk began to widen on their opposition. Midnight Hawk and Chitu were right together into the lane, but then Midnight Hawk began to wilt, and Chitu went on with it.

Midnight Hawk has lost three straight, but was second to California Chrome in his prior start in the San Felipe, and third behind Candy Boy and Chitu in the Lewis.

“I don’t know why he wants to lay in on horses,” said Mike Smith, who rode Midnight Hawk. “He doesn’t do that in the morning. I’ve tried a little bit of everything, too. But it’s not like he’s running bad races. He keeps running well against horses who run the race of their lives.”

Chitu is owned by Susan Chu, who races as Tanma Corporation. Bloodstock agent Donati Lanni bought Chitu on her behalf for $300,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Company sale in March 2013. He has now earned $501,800.