12/08/2011 5:37PM

Sunland Park: Pack Your Bags looks to continue climb in KLAQ Handicap


In a span of about four months, Pack Your Bags has gone from beaten $20,000 claimer to $50,000 stakes winner. On Saturday, he will be looking to continue his upward trend in the $50,000 KLAQ Handicap at Sunland Park.

The 5 1/2-furlong race is the first Thoroughbred stakes of the 77-date meet that opened Tuesday. The field includes defending KLAQ champ Ducky Drake, the 9-year-old gelding who earlier this year won the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap, and Cowboy’s Prayer, who is riding a two-race win streak for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Chip Woolley.

Pack Your Bags was claimed for $20,000 on July 27, with trainer Justin Evans making the purchase on behalf of H M A Stable. The horse was taken out of a Del Mar sprint run on the track’s synthetic main surface, and he finished eighth. Pack Your Bags headed to New Mexico after the race, and in his first start for his new connections, he was third in the $100,000 Premiere at Zia Park on Sept. 11.

“I think the biggest help to him was moving to conventional dirt tracks,” Evans said. “I think that’s helped that horse a ton. When we researched him to claim, he’d run some really good dirt races in the past. And when we got him, the first time he worked, at Albuquerque, he worked in 59 seconds. He also worked great at Zia.”

Pack Your Bags proceeded to win a second-level allowance at Zia for his new connections in November, before taking the $55,000 Lea County at the track in his last start Nov. 13. In that race, he defeated Humble Smarty, who was to have run back Thursday night in the $50,000 Winter Dash at Remington Park.

Evans said another key to Pack Your Bags has been learning more about the way he wants to run in a race.

“We started taking him back a little further, sitting on him, and he won the allowance race,” he said. “We’ve kind of got his running style down. He wants to get into the race and settle and make one run when they turn for home.”

Evans said he claimed about six horses this summer at Del Mar when taking a working vacation in San Diego. He privately purchased six others, following the lead, he said, of New Mexico’s perennial leading trainer, Henry Dominguez, who wins a nice amount of races with horses he either purchased or claimed out of Southern California.

Miguel Hernandez has the mount on Pack Your Bags, who will break from post 3. The horse is the 121-pound highweight in the KLAQ.