Less than six weeks before the Kentucky Derby (G1), the Steve Asmussen-trained ASTROLOGY (A.P. Indy) will make his belated three-year-old debut in Sunday's $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3), a 1 1/8-mile event that virtually guarantees its winner a position in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses with its $480,000 winner's share.
Astrology presently has $105,893 in graded earnings, accrued when gaining perhaps crucial experience over the Churchill oval last November when winning the Iroquois S. (G3) by 2 3/4 lengths and finishing second by a half-length in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2). However, the bay has been of action since the latter event on November 27, and only turned in his first published work of the season on February 5 at Santa Anita. He has since added seven workouts to his tab.
Astrology is co-owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, who has enjoyed classic success in recent years with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, and George Bolton, part-owner of the dazzling Rebel S. (G2) winner The Factor (War Front). Astrology drew the far outside post in the 11-horse field and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, who must somehow find his way from Dubai to suburban El Paso, Texas, in a little over 24 hours after riding the Dubai World Cup program in the Middle East Saturday.
The Bob Baffert-trained SINAI (Rockport Harbor) adds blinkers while stretching out for the first time in the Sunland Derby. The Zayat Stables representative was a debut winner at Hollywood Park in December, finished third in the six-furlong San Pedro S., and last time crossed the wire in fifth in the seven-furlong San Vicente S. (G2), a race that has already yielded San Felipe S. (G2) hero Premier Pegasus (Fusaichi Pegasus) in addition to The Factor.
The most lightly-raced colt in the field might also be the best-bred. A veteran of only two starts at Oaklawn, a 34-1 upset maiden win and a head second in an allowance, SUPREME RULER (Don't Get Mad) doesn't have any stakes performing siblings himself. However, his dam is a half-sister to Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour (Deputy Minister), the dam of Belmont S. (G1) winners Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy) and Jazil (Seeking the Gold), among others. Supreme Ruler is trained by Jinks Fires and will be ridden by Fires' son-in-law, Jon Court.
Four entrants from the February 26 Borderland Derby, the major local prep for the Sunland Derby, are back including the top two finishers. FUSA CODE (Fusaichi Pegasus), who beat BEHOLD DE BUY (E Dubai), by three parts of a length in that 1 1/16-mile heat, returns from his Santa Anita base for Asmussen. The Borderland Derby provided Fusa Code with his first career win in five starts.
The Turf Paradise Derby, contested on the same day as the Borderland, has also yielded a pair of participants. BEER MEISTER (Pleasant Tap) upset that 1 1/16-mile event by two lengths at 40-1, while TWICE THE APPEAL (Successful Appeal) was demoted from second to fourth after stretch interference.
Traveling farthest are the Kelly Breen-trained duo of NACHO SAINT (Yes It's True) and RULER ON ICE (Roman Ruler). Grade 2-placed at Saratoga last summer, Nacho Saint broke his maiden by more than four lengths at Aqueduct in late January and most recently finished fourth over the same track in the Gotham S. (G3). Ruler On Ice has two overnight wins to his credit, the most recent being an allowance score at Parx Racing last month.