Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino
Thursday, November 29, 2018
by Eric Alwan
Sunland Park’s 60th live racing season begins on Friday, Dec. 28
Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino’s 60th live racing season returns on Friday, Dec. 28 and extends into Sunday, May 5, 2019. The expanded 75-day meet will be energized by the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) and a highly lucrative stakes schedule worth over $5 million. The much anticipated race meet will also integrate the simulcasting of the Kentucky Derby (Saturday, May 4) into the live meet.
Over $1.5 million in purses will be offered on Sunland Derby (Gr. III) day – Sunday, March 24, 2019. The 16th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) at one and one-eighth miles is the richest and most impactful race of the meet for three-year-old Thoroughbreds seeking a berth in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. The winner of the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) receives 50 critical qualifying points for entry into the Kentucky Derby. 2017 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner Hence went on to win the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. Irap, fourth place finisher in the 2017 Sunland Derby (Gr. III), raced on to win the Blue Grass Stakes (Gr. II), the Ohio Derby (Gr. III) and the Indiana Derby (Gr. III) and was third in the Grade I Travers Stakes.
Last year’s Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner Runaway Ghost is back in training and may aim for Sunland Park’s handicaps for older runners. 2018 Sunland Park Oaks winner Blamed recently scored a smashing win in the Comely Stakes (Gr. III) at Aqueduct.
$800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) punctuates $5 million stakes schedule
A state record all-sources handle of nearly $4.3 million was set on the 2018 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) day card. A record crowd of 19,081 fans came to witness the 2015 edition of the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) won by Firing Line. He would run second to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winners Hence (2017), Chitu (2014), Govenor Charlie (2013), Daddy Nose Best (2012) and Twice the Appeal (2011) all ran in the Kentucky Derby. In 2009, Mine That Bird parlayed a fourth place finish in the Sunland Derby to a victory in the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds.
In addition to the Sunland Derby (Gr. III), the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks, $100,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap, $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes, $100,000 New Mexico State University Stakes, $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks and $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby help support Sunland Park’s greatest day on March 24.
Leading trainers Henry Dominguez, Justin Evans and Todd Fincher are loaded with extremely powerful stables for the upcoming season.
Thoroughbred stakes races are abundant on opening weekend. The $65,000 KLAQ Handicap for open Thoroughbreds racing 5 furlongs is set for Saturday, Dec. 29. Elite New Mexico-breds compete in the $85,000 Johnie L. Jamison Handicap at six and one-half furlongs and the $85,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap at five and on-half furlongs on Saturday, Dec. 29.
The $100,000 Riley Allison Derby at one mile on Sunday, Jan. 27 and the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at one and one-sixteenth miles on Sunday, Feb. 24 serve as the local prep races for the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III).
The $75,000 Island Fashion Stakes at one mile for three-year-old fillies on Sunday, Feb. 24 is the main lead in race for the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks at one and one-sixteenth miles.
Excellent open Thoroughbred stakes opportunities are available in the $65,000 Bold Ego Handicap on Sunday, Jan. 6, the $65,000 Winsham Lad Handicap on Sunday, Jan. 13, the $65,000 Borderplex Stakes on Sunday, Jan 27, the $75,000 Ft. Bliss Stakes on Saturday, Feb. 2 and the $75,000 Curribot Handicap on Sunday, Feb. 24.
On Saturday, May 4, the 60th running of the $150,000 Sunland Park Handicap and the $110,000-added Copper Top Futurity are showcased.
Champion horses return to Sunland Park
World class Quarter Horse racing will also be part of the Sunland product. The 18th running of the $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park (Gr. 1) at 440 yards is set for Sunday, Dec. 30.
Two-time World Champion Quarter Horse Jessies First Down is targeting the Championship at Sunland Park. He will try to become the first three-time World Champion Quarter Horse since Go Man Go and Shue Fly. Jessies First Down won the 2016 Championship at Sunland Park. The $175,000 est. West Texas Derby will be run on Saturday, April 20. The $375,000 est. New Mexican Spring Futurity and $275,000 est. West Texas Futurity happen on closing day Sunday, May 5, 2019.
The $85,000 Jess Burner Memorial Handicap rings in the 60th season on opening day Friday, Dec. 28.
Live racing at Sunland Park takes place on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday basis through Sunday, May 5, 2019. Post time for the season is 12:30 p.m. Nine races will be carded each day except on weekend days presenting Quarter Horse stakes where there could be 10 to 11 races. The Sunland Park barn area opens on Dec. 12. The racetrack opens for training on Dec. 17.