Sunday’s Sunland three-year-old stakes

This weekend is Fiesta del Sol weekend at Sunland Park, and the festivities include stakes-laden weekend cards.  Sunday’s card features a pair of rich races for three-year-olds: the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes for open sophomores, and the Plum Pretty Stakes for fillies.  Both of them drew contentious fields, with good mixes of sharp locals and intriguing shippers.

They should make for fun betting races, so let’s take a look!

Race 7: Plum Pretty Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:25pm MDT

Selections:  K P Wildcat (5), Where’s the D (6), Thrilled (2)

Longshot:  Ready and Set (4)

The waters get deeper here, but local K P Wildcat should pass this class test.  She rallied from last to first to win her debut at Zia, and then won from near the front end to demolish an allowance field at Sunland.  Last out in the Island Fashion Stakes, the local prep, she blew the break.  She looked completely eliminated — but she kicked on, swept past the field on the turn, and destroyed the field once again.  It was the sort of move that only a very good horse is able to make.  Between her speed, her affinity for the course, and her versatility, she should be able to defend her home turf with aplomb.

Among those shippers, Where’s the D holds the most appeal.  She faltered in the Frizette (GI) last out, but returns against a more fitting class here.  She should be the speed of the speed, and survived a speed duel in her maiden win.  She gets rider Mario Gutierrez from that effort, as well.  She has a long worktab leading into this race, including a trip of seven-furlong moves.  This suggests that even though Where’s the D has not raced since the try in the Frizette, she should be fit to run well.  Being by Blame out of a Meadowlake mare, she should be fine at a mile and a sixteenth.  This will be her first shot at two turns, but she has every right to like it.  If she does, she could win this at a square price.

Family Tree and Thrilled, the two shortest prices on the morning line, are both classy horses — but both better on turf than they are on dirt.  Between the two, though it is Family Tree’s trainer Bob Baffert who has had a stranglehold on the Sunland Park Oaks in recent years, it is Thrilled who has a bit more to recommend her.  She has raced a bit classier company on dirt than Family Tree has.  Thrilled ran a solid second behind Lewis Bay in the Demoiselle (GII) last out; Lewis Bay returned to finish second in the Davona Dale behind a bona fide monster, Cathryn Sophia.  Thrilled cuts back from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a sixteenth here.  She also goes blinkers-on for the first time; trainer Todd Pletcher is  a 20% winner with that move.

For the longshot slot, I looked at several horses.  The Evans pair, Sweet Bea and L J’s Awesome Girl, finished 2-3 behind K P Wildcat in the Island Fashion.  That shows some route form, but both have raced enough to make me wonder just a bit about how big a step forward they will take here.  Instead, Ready and Set is trying something completely new.  She has only raced once before, finishing third in a four and a half furlong maiden race at Sunland on March 5.  Here she stretches to a route for the first time.  It is an ambitious placing, but why not?  Trainer Jose Gonzalez has won three of his last 11 starts with first-time routers, and four of his last 12 with second-time starters.  Perhaps that four and a half furlong race was just another work, but one that allowed him to see how she handled race conditions.  After all, one of her recent works was even longer than that race.  Ready and Set should be rolling late, and if the front end gets feisty, she could reap the benefits as the longest shot on the board.

Race 9: Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes, three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm MDT

Selections:  Collected (8), Cowboy Cool (7), Found Money (1)

Longshot:  Music Giant (10)

Collected will likely be the favourite, but for good reason.  Bob Baffert typically does well when shipping to Sunland, and he has once again found a horse who would be slotted perfectly in this race.  Collected has early speed, but can rate off of others more likely to really gun it early.  His speeds are strong, and he keeps regular rider Martin Garcia in the irons.  People have been blowing off the Sham horses in Derby preps — but the fact remains that, at least this year, this race is not a Derby prep.  It is the reight class for Collected, and he will be difficult to beat.

Going into the Mine That Bird Stakes (the local prep for this race), I saw Cowboy Cool as one to pass on that day, but to look hard at second off the lay.  Here we are, second off the lay, and I stand firm.  He ran a solid second in the Mine That Bird, behind only Concord Fast, despite that being his first try at Sunland and his first race since October.  Stretching out to this mile and an eighth, Cowboy Cool has strong upside — being by Divine Park out of a Royal Academy mare, he should be able to get nine panels without a problem.  Trainer Greg Green also has a solid 18% strike rate second off the lay.

Found Money is another one to watch.  He is rail-drawn for trainer Doug O’Neill, another trainer who has shipped and won at Sunland before.  Derby preps have proven a bit over his head, but he has been a solid runner in the Cal-bred ranks.  He will be near the lead early, but has shown some ability to battle on the front.  The mile and an eighth is the biggest question with Found Money, but his win in the King Glorious two back shows some upside.  He was able to rate a bit off the pace, take over, and get clear late.  That was at a mile; this will be his first try going longer than that over a fast track.  He was fourth at a mile and a sixteenth in the Delta Jackpot, but the combination of the muddy surface and the bullring track make that a set-aside here.

For a huge bomb in exotics, why not Music Giant?  He was well-beaten in the Mine That Bird two back.  But, he returned to dismantle a maiden special weight field on March 11, second off the lay.  Now he wheels right back into the stakes.  Perhaps the light is on.  Trainer Henry Dominguez is always dangerous in stakes races on this circuit, and he wins a quarter of the time with last-out maiden winners.  Finally, Music Giant has the best stamina breeding of anyone in the field — he is by Giant’s Causeway out of an A. P Indy mare.  He liked a mile, but he should love a mile and an eighth.

The one horse to stand against here is Gettysburg.  He will take a lot of money, as he is trained by Todd Pletcher, will be ridden by regular rider Javier Castellano, and is the only one in the field to have a win going nine furlongs.  But, he needs the lead.  With the likes of Found Money, Concord Fast, and Crown of Ambition — combined with the far outside post draw — the deck is stacked against Gettysburg to get the sort of early lead he needs.  At a short price, he is a dodgy and unattractive proposition.

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