The best in Thoroughbred racing will converge on Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino for the $1,185,000 Festival of the Sun on Saturday and Sunday (March 19-20). Kentucky Derby winning trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Doug O'Neill plus the mighty Steve Asmussen are sending horses to Sunland Park for the big Sunday card which is anchored by the $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes (9th race) for three-year-old colts and geldings going 1 and 1/8 miles. The $200,000 Plum Pretty (7th race) for three-year-old fillies racing one and one-sixteenth miles has also attracted national attention.
Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert trains the probable favorite in the $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes in Collected. The fast colt by City Zip owns a handsome win in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 9. The stalking type router is coming off a fourth place finish as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes behind Suddenbreakingnews. Martin Garcia, a 2-time winner of the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) gets the ride. Collected has won 2 of 4 races and generated $136,200 in earnings.
Doug O'Neill counters with a strong runner in Found Money. The multiple stakes winner from California finished fourth behind Collected in the Sham Stakes. Found Money has career earnings nearing $300,000. O'Neill has assigned his go-to rider Mario Gutierrez for the mount. Paul Reddam is the owner. Reddam, O'Neill and Gutierrez combined forces to win the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with I'll Have Another. O'Neill won the very first Sunland Derby (formerly the WinStar Derby) with Excessivepleasure in 2003. He also won the 2005 edition with future Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Thor's Echo.
Record setting training juggernaut and Hall of Fame nominee Steve Asmussen sends out Walk Out for the rich Festival of Racing Stakes. His charge is royally bred by Asmussen's former Horse of the Year Curlin and out of the regal Dixieland Band mare Cheryl's Sister. Walk Out ripped through allowance horses with ease at Sam Houston and getting stronger fast. Last fall at Indiana Downs, he broke his maiden by nearly 15 lengths. Asmussen won the 2012 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) with Daddy Nose Best.
Multiple Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher will be represented by Gettysburg in Sunland Park's most important Thoroughbred race. Gettysburg raced as the 8-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay last month and finished fifth. The winner of the that race was Destin who came back on Saturday to win the Tampa Bay Derby in track record time. Javier Castellano, a 3-time Eclipse Award winning jockey, gets the call. Gettysburg is a son of Pioneer of the Nile and owned by WinStar Farm, LLC. Pletcher will also saddle a Plum Pretty runner and the classy filly Tiger Mothin the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap for fillies and mares racing one mile.
Sunland Park's leading trainer Justin Evans saddles two in the race including $100,000 Mine That Bird Stakes winner Concord Fast. Both Concord Fast and Bruntino should make a nice one-two punch in the one and one-eighth mile test and have home field advantage. Concord Fast whipped his foes by 4 lengths in the Mine That Bird Stakes. Evans also saddles the ferocious stakes winning mare Belleofthebeach in the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap.
The $200,000 Plum Pretty is a most intriguing battle between local sensation K P Wildcat and two very powerful shippers in Thrilled and Family Tree.
K P Wildcat remains unbeaten and virtually unchallenged in three career races. Despite bobbling at the break, she coasted to a near 8 length in the $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes for trainer Weston Martin. The daughter of Include has substantial talent and will take some beating in Sunday's 7th race.
Thrilled and jockey Javier Castellano will attract ample support in the Plum Pretty. Todd Pletcher's charge finished second in the Grade 2 $300,000 Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct last November and should go favored on Sunday. She has battled the nation's finest fillies and carries the largest bankroll in the field of $169,800. Her owner Michael Tabor also owned 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch and has been a partner in many top class runners in the United States and Europe.
Bob Baffert's Family Tree is battled tested with two stakes placed performances at Remington park and Churchill Downs, respectively. Martin Garcia rides the daughter of Smart Strike.
Sunday's undercard rates extremely high with the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap, $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes starring Dirt Monster, $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Oaks, $85,000 La Coneja Stakes and the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby.
Saturday's main event is the $85,000 New Mexico State University Handicap. Post time on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday is 1:30 p.m.
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