03/25/2011 5:00PM

Sunland Park Derby marks season debut for Astrology

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Astrology is running a little late for a very important date, but he can make up significant ground Sunday, when he starts his 3-year-old season in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby.

A 1 1/8-mile race, the Sunland Park Derby is the centerpiece of the meet, and with a first-place check of $400,000, the winner is all but ensured the graded earnings needed to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate if the May  7 classic is oversubscribed. A field of 11 will be shooting for the big bucks during the richest card of the Sunland season. There are six stakes on the program, including the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, and the races are worth a cumulative $1.4 million.

Astrology showed ability last year, when he won the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs in October and finished second in the Grade  2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov.  27. Those efforts had Astrology sitting 21st on the Kentucky Derby graded earnings list on Friday.

He figures to go favored in the Sunland Derby as the lone graded winner in the field, but the race is not the ideal starting point for the horse’s year, said trainer Steve Asmussen, who had hoped to bring Astrology out at 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 2 San Felipe at his Santa Anita base March 12.

“It’s a tall order,” Asmussen said. “When he went to California he got a little sick, and we missed some time. The original plan was the San Felipe, but with him getting sick that race was not in his best interest. So it’s later than we wanted to start back and farther than we wanted to start back.”

Astrology at least has the benefit of a 1 1/16-mile race under his belt, courtesy of the Kentucky Jockey Club. As a son of stamina source A.P. Indy, he also has a pedigree that wants more ground.
“He’s a very classic-looking horse,” Asmussen said. “He’s very impressive. He’s what you’re looking for in a racehorse.”

Julien Leparoux will be aboard Astrology for the first time, and the pair will break from post 11.

“It’s a very good scenario to be outside off the layoff,” Asmussen said. “We won’t be in any hurry with him. And the mile and an eighth on the mile track at Sunland gives you plenty of run to the first turn.”

Asmussen will also send out Fusa Code, who shipped in from Santa Anita and won his maiden in the Feb. 26 Sunland Derby prep, the $100,000 Borderland Derby. Justin Shepherd has the mount from post 3.

“Fusa Code ran really well at Sunland,” Asmussen said. “He’s doing well. It’s not ideal to run against each other, both being very nice horses, but circumstances dictated it.”

Trainer Kelly Breen will also start two horses in the Sunland Derby. Nacho Saint comes into the race off a fourth-place finish to Stay Thirsty in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct on March 5. In the race, Nacho Saint had a false break and lunged out of the gate.

“He got off last, and for a horse that is generally close to the pace, he had to come from last,” Breen said.

Ruler On Ice makes his stakes debut after winning a first-level allowance route at Parx Racing on Feb. 22.

“He’s a little out of conditions for back east, and I thought this would be an easier spot than the Wood Memorial against Uncle Mo,” Breen said.

Both horses shipped to Sunland on March 17 and have had a chance to work over the track, Breen said.

Supreme Ruler enters the Sunland Derby off a runner-up finish in an Oaklawn allowance won by The Ole Gen, who was to run Saturday at Turfway Park in the $100,000 Rushaway. Jon Court has the mount for trainer Jinks Fires. Sinai will add blinkers for trainer Bob Baffert following a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 San Vicente. Also in the field are Beermeister and Twice the Appeal, the one-two finishers from the $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby.

Sunday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 78 degrees. HRTV and TVG are scheduled to broadcast the Sunland Derby.