This Friday, racing gets back underway at Sunland for the first time since January 22.
The nine-race card ends with a chance for three-year-olds to shine in the Mine That Bird Stakes. The local prep for the Sunland Derby, this year it is being run under overnight stakes conditions. It drew a field of ten colts and geldings to run a mile on the dirt for a $100,000 purse. Of the ten, eight have raced on the New Mexico circuit before. The only new faces are first-time starter Volley and mid-Atlantic shipper Dad. Though this two-start maiden has only raced at Delaware Park, he already has an indelible connection to the circuit: his dam is none other than undefeated New Mexico-bred Peppers Pride. Dad is an easy sentimental choice here.
But, we are looking for winners today, not necessarily rooting interests. For that, we go elsewhere.
Selections: Deputy’s Echo (7), Hemakesmyheartsing (10), Bruntino (8)
Longshot: Volley (2)
Deputy’s Echo only has a maiden win to his credit, but no one in this field has more than that: six of the ten entrants have won in maiden company, and the other four are maidens. Deputy’s Echo broke his maiden last time out, back in December, by open lengths. That win came in his first start at Sunland, suggesting he handles the course well. However, in four other starts at Zia and SunRay, he finished in the money every time. That suggests some consistency, something either lacking or unproven in most of his foes. In terms of pace, he has turned in solid efforts from right on the front, or rallying a few off. Expect the latter — he broke his maiden from off the pace, and the likes of Cattle Company, Crown of Ambition, and Concord Fast have shown some early zip.
Deputy’s Echo has not yet tried two turns, which is the biggest question surrounding him. However, being by Badge of Silver out of a Distorted Humor mare, he has a right to stretch out. He also has a recent five-furlong work — and works every week to week and a half since mid-January, one of the more regular drill patterns since the Sunland break. This suggests he should be fit enough to try the distance. All in all, Deputy’s Echo looks like a solid contender for a square price.
Two others worth a serious look are Hemakesmyheartsing and Bruntino.
Hemakesmyheartsing is the only one in the field with a one-mile win over the Sunland oval, a win he notched on January 8. That race was a significant step forward from his work at Santa Anita and Zia, making it attractive to see him return to the same surface and distance for this start. He is the “A” entry from 23% trainer Henry Dominguez. Though he adds blinkers in a field that has several other early-pace types, Dominguez also strikes at 17% with first-time blinkers (with 44% in the money), suggesting he knows what he is doing here. He rated from off the pace last out and was able to overcome some trouble to get the win — suggesting he does not need the lead, and could have enough resilience to work out a decent trip from the outermost gate.
Bruntino is the “A” entry among the 3 from 25% local trainer Justin Evans, and rather clearly the best. He did not cut it in California, but woke up in a big way in his first start in New Mexico. That start came at Zia, but at the same mile distance as the Mine That bird. He also gets Alfredo Juarez, Jr. in the irons — Evans and Juarez are a 33% win proposition over the last two months. Juarez was also the last-out rider of both Concord Fast and Hemakesmyheartsing, two other live entries in this race. Though Bruntino has not started since his November win, he has a solid pattern of works dating back to the middle of December, suggesting he should be fit enough to run well. A mid-pack type who showed solid late pace last out, expect him to benefit should the front end get particularly zippy.
Cowboy Cool intrigues a bit, but he will be a stand-against — this time. He showed sharp form in two starts at Zia last fall, but has not raced since October. Trainer Alejandro Medellin only wins at 10% off these three-month or longer lays. The three-week gap between Cowboy Cool’s most recent work and the one before also does not bode the best for his first start at a mile. The pedigree suggests he will like the distance, but he may need this start. Next out, however, give Cowboy Cool a very long look.
For a bomb in exotics, Volley intrigues. Volley is a first-time starter, so take a look at him in the paddock and the post parade. But, if he looks fit and interested, there are suggestions that he could fire first-time out. He is by Sky Mesa, who has sired some precocious progeny, out of a dam who has produced a first-out winner. Dam String of Pearls has also produced two winners at a mile or more, out of four winners total. Volley is speculative, of course. But, in a race with so many maidens and so many runners on long rest — for the longest shot on the board, why not bet that the one with the precocious pedigree comes in ready to fire for a share?