The powerhouse stables of Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher will be represented by four of the nine entries in Sunday's Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby, a 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep which awards points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers toward eligibility for the May 3 classic at Churchill Downs.
Baffert, who has won the Sunland Derby twice including last year with Govenor Charlie, sends out the speedy pair of Chitu and Midnight Hawk. A son of one-turn specialist Henny Hughes, Chitu beat maiden and allowance company in his first starts last fall, and was most recently second, beaten a half-length, in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita over 1 1/16 miles.
Finishing third in the Lewis was Midnight Hawk, who previously captured the one-mile Sham at Santa Anita on January 11. A son of sprint champion Midnight Lute, Midnight Hawk followed up his Lewis effort with a distant second-place finish behind California Chrome in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, also at Santa Anita.
Likely to be aided by a potential fast pace set by the Baffert pair is Commissioner, the more accomplished of the Pletcher-trained duo. The A.P. Indy colt, who broke his maiden going nine furlongs at Saratoga last summer, beat the highly-regarded Top Billing in a 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream allowance on January 3, but was only sixth last time in the Fountain of Youth over the same track when falling far off the pace over a speed-favoring track. To ensure more tactical foot, Commissioner will wear blinkers for the first time on Sunday.
Pletcher's other entrant, Global Strike, takes a big step up in class following a nine-furlong maiden win at Gulfstream where he was allowed to set a moderate pace.
Also expected to show early foot is Tanzanite Cat, a game winner of the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn two back. The Cody Autrey charge could not replicate that effort last time in the Southwest, steadily dropping back throughout en route to a fifth-place finish. Yet another who has shown speed is Garen, a wire-to-wire maiden winner at Santa Anita last time for Peter Miller.
Bourbonize, an off-the-pace winner of his first two starts at Churchill and Oaklawn, broke slow from an outside post in the Southwest and could only rally for sixth in the 1 1/16-mile feature. He might fare better here with a solid pace likely.
The field is completed by local hope Rebranded, winner of the Riley Allison Futurity and runner-up in the Mine That Bird Derby, and the overmatched Turf Paradise shipper Lawly's Goal.