03/21/2014 4:00PM

Sunland Park: Midnight Hawk, Chitu give Baffert hot hand in rich Sunland Derby

Shigeki Kikkawa
Midnight Hawk is one of two strong contenders for trainer Bob Baffert in Sunday's $800,000 Sunland Derby.

The Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby has carved out a legitimate spot on the Triple Crown trail since its purse was boosted significantly in 2003. The field for Sunday’s renewal drives that point home, as four of the nine runners set to start hail from two of the biggest names in racing, trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher.

Baffert has the potential top two choices in Midnight Hawk and Chitu, who both ran second in Grade 2 races last out at Santa Anita. Pletcher will counter with Gulfstream Park winners Commissioner and Global Strike. Both trainers also have starters in the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks on the undercard, and each cited a number of reasons for targeting the richest Thoroughbred racing card in New Mexico.

“Sunland Park’s produced a Derby winner and an Oaks winner,” said Baffert, referring to Mine That Bird and Plum Pretty.

Pletcher said the race’s timing and distribution of 85 preference points for the Kentucky Derby – divided to the first four finishers on a scale of 50-20-10-5 – add to the Sunland Derby’s appeal.

[Sunland Derby: Get PPs, watch Sunday's card live]

“By running here, we’re putting ourselves in a position, if we’re good enough, to win enough points to get in,” he said, “and if we don’t run as well as we want, there’s still time to look at other options late.”

Midnight Hawk could go favored in the Sunland Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race that earned graded status in 2010. The field also includes Tanzanite Cat, the winner of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in January; Rebranded, who was second in the local prep, the $120,220 Mine That Bird Derby; and Garen, a maiden winner at Santa Anita and a half-brother to 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor.

Midnight Hawk captured the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita in his second career start Jan. 11 and will enter Sunday’s race off a runner-up finish to California Chrome in the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 8.

“He ran a big race,” Baffert said. “He hooked into a bear last time. He’s come back and worked well and shipped well.”

Midnight Hawk is a son of Midnight Lute, who sired last year’s Sunland Derby winner, Govenor Charlie, who was also trained by Baffert. Midnight Hawk could get a tracking trip from post 7. He is owned by a partnership that includes Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings.

Chitu finished second in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in his last start on Feb. 8. He was prominent throughout and was beaten just a half-length by Candy Boy.

“He ran hard in that last race, and we gave him a little extra time,” said Baffert, who trains for Tanma Corporation.

Chitu, a son of Henny Hughes, will break from post 9 under regular rider Martin Garcia.

“He has a lot of speed,” Baffert said. “His weapon is his speed, and we’re not going to take that away from him.

“The pace is going to make the race. I think it’ll either be won on the front end or somebody will come from way behind. It looks like there’s lots of speed.”

A contested pace might work to the benefit of Global Strike, said Pletcher. Global Strike won a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight in his last start Feb. 22.

“He got on the lead early and was just waiting on horses throughout the race,” Pletcher said. “He’s better if he has a target to run at. If everyone shows up that’s supposed to show up, there should be plenty of pace. He’s better with someone to stalk than being on the lead.”

Javier Castellano has the mount on Global Strike, a son of Smart Strike who races for his breeder, Stonestreet Stables.

Commissioner, a son of A.P. Indy owned by WinStar Farm, will add blinkers after finishing sixth in last month’s Grade  2 Fountain of Youth. Prior to the start, he won a Gulfstream optional claimer over Top Billing.

“He truly wants a mile and a quarter,” Pletcher said. “All A.P. Indy.”

John Velazquez has the mount from post 3.

Tanzanite Cat arrived at Sunland on Monday from Oaklawn. He will break from post 5, under Norberto Arroyo Jr.

“He’s probably not going to be on the lead with Chitu,” said Cody Autrey, who trains Tanzanite Cat. “I think he’ll be one, two, three going down that backstretch, just hopefully get that comfortable spot where he gets the chance to relax and make his run.”

Rebranded will add blinkers for Justin Evans, who is the runaway leader in the trainer standings at Sunland. The horse rallied for second in the Mine That Bird Derby under Ry Eikleberry, who has the mount again Sunday for owner Tony Pennington.

The Sunland Derby anchors a card of seven stakes worth $1,405,000. Jay Privman, national correspondent for Daily Racing Form, will conduct an ontrack handicapping seminar at 11 a.m. Mountain. The 12-race Thoroughbred card will be streamed live at drf.com.

Lefty More than 1 year ago
Midnight Hawk is at best a miler! We are going to find that out today after this race! No way he last 1 1/8 unless it taps out at 1:52 or 1:53 plus. We'll know in a half hour.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Track is playing fair, second race time 1:38 for the mile, second place finisher closed from six lengths to loose by a nose. So just to let anyone wagering on the stakes races today, don't expect the speed to rule.
Edward Nelson More than 1 year ago
Another dumb race for non worthy derby horses to get an undeserved ticket into the derby starting gate. Sunland, turfway, and tampa's derby preps should have very little points awarded, if any.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And yet all of these races have produced starters in the past who finished in the top 5 in derby. Trainers will run here in hopes of getting in so they can rest their horse up to time for the derby. Both Baffert and Pletcher have at least one in already.
Mark More than 1 year ago
TAP has 3 already 1. Intense Holiday 2. Artie 3. Vinceramos or whatever his name likely in too
Paul67 More than 1 year ago
Tampa Derby has produced 2007 and 2010 Derby winner, Sunland 2009 Derby winner and 2011 Belmont winner, and Spiral produced 2011 Derby winner. Want a race that hasn't produced ANYTHING for the Derby the last several years? How about that precious Grade 1 Wood Memorial. I think they should take their Derby points away b/c that is about as worthless race as can be for a Derby prep last few years.
Edward Nelson More than 1 year ago
So glad you could research that and tell us all about the past. How about coming up with something resent. This year we probably wont even have a horse entered from tampa, the spiral winner is a shoe in to finish last, and when baffert wins the sunland derby today with one of his overrated allowance horses, he will enter that horse in the derby so he can be on tv.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Midnight Hawk, a May foal will be rolling today. Still just two years old and has been competitive, while still showing signs of immaturity.
Mark More than 1 year ago
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
Bafferts bringing him back in two weeks here in a desperate effort to get him in the Derby as he don't think he can qualify anywhere else. Exactly what signs of immaturity has he shown? Not being able to keep up with California Chrome?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He was green in the lane, not switching leads and yes, California Chrome ran big and he chased and today they chase Midnight Hawk and Tanzanite Cat. For those continue to say a miler at best are just unfamiliar with his bloodlines.
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
He looked to me like he was on his right lead in the lane and just got tired, not green. Still doesn't mean as the favorite today he doesn't have a chance to win this on this dirt covered pavement, just not a Derby horse.
Mark More than 1 year ago
He has plenty of points for derby already
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
Your'e right. So why bring him back so soon, oh yea NM $$
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
Chitu is the horse to beat not Midnight Hawk, but not being the only person to think that Chitu might go off favorite. But if you want to hit the tri or super, better use the 10-1 Garen and wouldn't be surprised if he won, and don't believe he'll be double digit odds, but a nice price.
Mark More than 1 year ago
Chitu doesn't wangvtge distance either. Track may carry him . Commissioner or Bourbonize likely winner IMO .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At least in the first race today, track playing fair. Sunland is not always a concrete highway as many others like to say. I have wagered on them and it actually plays fair, unless they like other tracks are having very hot weather.
Tom Van More than 1 year ago
The decisions are made by owners who just want a horse in the Derby. The field does not mean all of this horses are good canidates.
Mark More than 1 year ago
Has anyone in here seen Tamarando ? Lol !!!!
Allan Gauthier More than 1 year ago
You have the Canadian bred Mark???
Mark More than 1 year ago
I did Allan .
Allan Gauthier More than 1 year ago
The Queens Plate favorite.........ya never know. Everyone is dropping out.
edb More than 1 year ago
They sent him to look for Conquest Titan. More derby horses that you don't need to bet, but a nice purse. No way they should get as many points for this race.
Dee R. Eff More than 1 year ago
How is this race going to eliminate several Kentucky wannabees. They are all a cut below wannabees that will turn into qualifiers. Up to four of these Derby pretenders might make the gate.
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
This race should eliminate several Kentucky wannabees.
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
That's funny Jim. The wannabees are in here to garner the points to make it to the Derby because they couldn't qualify anywhere else. It's putting more in the field not eliminating.
Jeremy Porter More than 1 year ago
Seems like baffert is trying to kill midnight hawk! its obvious hes a miler at best!
Biggar W More than 1 year ago
Probably won't be bet much, because he can't go this far.