With its lucrative $800,000 purse, the Grade 3 Sunland Derby is an attractive prep race for Kentucky Derby hopefuls lacking graded earnings, and three-year-olds from the barns of notable trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen have shipped into the New Mexico track this year in search of a guaranteed berth to the Run for Roses. The 1 1/8-mile race gained notoriety in 2009 when producing Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.
Grade 3 winners Castaway and Daddy Nose Best are the top draws in Sunday's eight-horse field.
One of two from Hall of Famer Baffert, Castaway opened his three-year-old season with a sharp 2 1/4-length score over maiden special weight rivals at Santa Anita. He successfully jumped straight to stakes company in the first division of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park February 20, romping by 3 3/4 lengths, and will look to make it three straight wins with a returning Rafael Bejarano.
Castaway will be joined in the starting gate by stablemate Stirred Up, who exits a good-looking maiden special weight score at Santa Anita on March 3.
Daddy Nose Best recorded maiden and entry-level allowance wins last year, but was never a serious factor in three stakes attempts on turf. The Asmussen pupil broke through when switching to Golden Gate Fields' Tapeta in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, posting a gutsy nose decision over a well-regarded Lucky Chappy, and the bay colt will look to keep his momentum rolling on dirt Sunday. Regular Julien Leparoux will be in for the assignment.
Ender Knievel will be in from South Florida for Pletcher following a 7 3/4-length maiden romp on February 5. The chestnut gelding has never been two turns, but he is a son of Distorted Humor out of an A.P. Indy mare. John Velazquez will travel west to guide him. Isn't He Clever exits a comfortable tally in the local prep, the February 25 Borderland Derby, and the Smarty Jones gelding is unbeaten in two starts at Sunland.
The remaining contestants -- No Spin, Tequila Factor and Justanoldsong -- are all longshots.