19th Running of the Sunland Derby shines in front of 15,446 in attendance Sunday afternoon

Feb 19, 2024

Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino

Sunday, February 18, 2024


Stronghold masters $400,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III); Near record crowd of 15,446 fans attend the races

Shipping in from Southern California, Stronghold proved too strong for his seven rivals in the 19th running of the $400,000 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino on Sunday.

The 6-5 favorite trained by powerhouse conditioner Phillip D’Amato attended the early pace and pressurized the early leader Lucky Jeremy down the backstretch of the 1- and 1/16-mile feature. Under

Jockey Antonio Fresu, Stronghold gained in confidence and momentum as the race progressed. He pulled a length clear at the top of the stretch, and the outcome of the race became academic.

The three-year-old Ghostzapper colt took hold of the bit and raced well clear of his rivals while accelerating down the crown of the racetrack. The 2 and one-length winner was timed in a quick 1:42.64.

The rising star earned his second career win and first going around two turns. While coming off two graded stakes placed performances, Stronghold appeared full of zeal and earned 20 qualifying points to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Stronghold looked like a genuine Kentucky Derby candidate while overpowering his opponents. He earned $232,800 for winning owners Eric and Sharon Waller. The lucrative win pushed his career bankroll past the $376,000 mark.

14-1 longshot Alotaluck produced a huge effort to gain second in the last jump. The Riley Allison Derby runner-up turned the tables on Riley Allison Derby winner Lucky Jeremy who finished third.

Trained by Ty Garrett, Alotaluck chased the pace setters throughout and never gave up. He earned $85,360 for owner Eleanor Martin.

Lucky Jeremy, owned by Jeremy Ramsland, also produce a gallant effort and did much the early heavy lifting. He missed second place on the last jump of the Sunland Derby. (Gr III).

A near record jam packed crowd of 15,446 fans came out to witness the Sunland Derby (Gr. III) card of 10 races. Over $3.1 million was wagered on the program.


Recharge wins a thrilling $250,000 Sunland Park Oaks

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ talented three-year-old Gun Runner filly Recharge won a dramatic edition of the $250,000 Sunland Park Oaks.

Under Joel Rosario thwarted a serious stretch bid from Candy Aisle to win the Oaks by a hard-fought neck.  Rosario won 4 stakes races on the day.

Hall of Fame Trainer Steve Asmussen saddled the unbeaten filly who shipped in from Sam Houston Race Park. The victory was worth $148,500. She paid $6.60 to win.


Flying Connection makes an impressive victory in the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap

Flying Connection, making the first start of her 4-year-old campaign, drew clear in the stretch under jockey Joel Rosario to post an impressive victory in the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap.

Owned by Brad King, G. Randy Andrews, G. Chris Coleman, Jim Cone, Suzanne Kirby and R. Lee Lewis for trainer Todd Fincher, Flying Connection raced gate to wire, dueling with Cityonthenile down the backstretch through an opening half mile in 47.67 seconds.

As the field raced into the far turn, Rosario called upon the 4-year-old daughter of Nyquist, and she responded gamely, opening up on her competition to win by 4 1-4 lengths, racing one mile in a time of 1 minute, 35.98 seconds.

Flying Connection has now won seven times from 13 career starts and improves her record at Sunland Park to three wins from four starts over the course. She won her most recent start, finishing her 3-year-old campaign with a romping victory in the Zia Princess Stakes last November at Zia Park. Sunday’s win in the Henson increases her career earnings to more than $617,000.

Sent off as the overwhelming 1-to-9 favorite, Flying Connection paid $2.10 to her winning backers. Love Tank and jockey Ken Tohill closed ground late to finish second, completing a $4.80 return on the $2 exacta. Loana and jockey Alfredo Juarez, Jr., finished third with Cityonthenile and Francisco Amparan rounding out the top four finishers.


Community Leader makes a romping win in the $100,000 Red Hedeman Mile

J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Community Leader, making his first start around two turns, is a perfect 2-for-2 in his 3-year-old campaign after a romping win in the $100,000 Red Hedeman Mile.

Ridden by Felipe Valdez for trainer Todd Fincher, the son of Diabolical raced midpack down the backstretch, about three lengths behind dueling leaders Marking Canyon, Horns N Halos and Holy Bullet through an opening half-mile of 47.67 seconds. Valdez guided Community Leader to the outside around the far turn and quickly inhaled that leading trio, taking the lead at the top of the stretch.

Community Leader quickly drew clear of the field, winning by 8 1-4 lengths and racing a mile in a time of 1 minute, 37.75 seconds.

A two-time winner as a 3-year-old, Community Leader has now won eight times from nine career starts. He won his most recent start on Jan. 18, scoring a narrow victory in the Corralito Steak House Stakes. As a 2-year-old, Community Leader won six times from seven starts including a pair of stakes races at Ruidoso Downs.

Sunday’s win in the Red Hedeman Mile increases Community Leader’s lifetime earnings to more than $407,000.

Sent off as the 2-to-5 post time favorite, Community Leader returned $2.80 to win. Shame On Whiskey, ridden by Daniel Vergara finished second. The $2 exacta with the top pair came back $18.20. Marking Canyon settled for third with Holy Bullet rounding out the top four finishers.


Live racing resumes on Thursday at 12:25 p.m.