Over $1.5 million in purses will be offered on Sunland Derby (GR III) day – Sunday, March 26, 2017. The 14th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (GR III) at one and one-eighth miles will be the richest and most important race of the meet for three-year-old Thoroughbreds seeking a berth in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. The winner of the Sunland Derby (GR III) receives 50 critical qualifying points for entry into the Kentucky Derby. A record crowd of 19,081 fans came to witness the 2015 edition of the Sunland Derby (GR III).

The 2015 Sunland Derby (GR III) winner, Firing Line, ran second to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Sunland Derby (GR III) winners Chitu (2014), Governor 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 Handicap, $100,000 La Coneja Stakes, $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks and $100,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Derby will help propel Sunland Park’s greatest day on March 26.

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2017 Sunland Derby
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Firing Line marches away by 14 lengths to win $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) Record crowd of 19,081 fans attended Sunland Derby

Grade 1 stakes placed Firing Line stars in one of the strongest lineups ever for the 13th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) on Sunday at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.


Ranked #6 by the Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch list, Firing Line will be the highest ranked three-year-old to ever compete in the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) which rewards the winner with a precious 50 qualifying points to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

As advertised, Firing Line was just too much and marched away to a record setting 14 and one quarter length victory procession in the 13th running of the $800,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) on Sunday at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in front of a record crowd of 19,081 enthusiastic fans.

Bet down hard to 1-5 odds, Firing Line and Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens motored towards the lead down the backstretch run of the 1 and 1/8 mile Kentucky Derby prep race and never looked like a loser. Stevens asked for a bit of speed and Firing Line turned on some power around the final turn and the race was over. The talented son of Line of David began to pull well clear of the rivals. He responded with a terrific turn of foot and was 8 lengths in front by the middle of the stretch. Stevens simply hand rode the impressive winner to over a 14-length winning margin. The 14 and one-quarter length margin is a record winning margin for the Sunland Derby.

Stevens said, “He did it all very professionally. Real easy. I’m in a great spot. He can do well at the next level.”

The awe inspiring win was also a track and stakes record of 1:47.39 eclipsing for the former track and stakes record of 1:47.54 held by 2013 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) winner Governor Charlie.

Firing Line earned the massive $400,000 pay day for winning owner Arnold Zetcher and earned a virtual berth in this year’s Kentucky Derby by earning 50 qualifying points.

Mr. Zetcher said, “This is my third horse to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. I’ve owned horses for 13 years and Firing Line is one of the best. It was great effort today and he was ready to go and we are going to Kentucky. Simon is a great trainer and the way he approaches the sport is perfect for Firing Line. Having Gary Stevens on board is a tremendous plus, and his experience will help us. We are so lucky. We have the oldest jockey and the youngest trainer. Firing Line is a really good horse. We won the 2009 Sunland Park Oaks with Gabby’s Golden Gal. We purchased Firing Line for $240,000 at the Keeneland Sale.”

Sunland’s newest sensation has been patiently developed by winning trainer Simon Callaghan who was beaming in the winner’s circle. Callaghen said, “This is a very nice colt. He won well. We figured he was the best. He didn’t have to force a pace with quick fractions. In his training, he’s learned how to relax a lot and it paid off handsomely today. The Sunland Derby has been on a radar for a while. It is a nice ship from California. He trained well over the track and handled it well. He matured a lot in recent months. Those were major factors.”

Firing Line earned his first career stakes win following two narrow second place finishes to Dortmund in California. Firing Line’s second career win pushed his lifetime bankroll to $574,800. He has never been worse the second in 5 career outs.

Mine That Bird Derby winner Where’s The Moon finished a long distance second with Luis Contreras in the saddle. The well bred son of Malibu Moon earned 20 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby and a $176,000 paycheck for owners Kirk and Judy Robison of El Paso, Texas. The 11-1 shot tried to muster a rally in the final quarter mile but was absolutely no threat to the winner. The runner-up finished two and one-quarter lengths in front of Pain and Misery who earned $96,000 for the Back Gold Racing stable and 10 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby.

Tiznow R J, Dirt Monster, Why Two and Malibu Mogul rounded out the order of finish.