Daddy Nose Best proved his versatility once again when he ran down local hope Isn't He Clever in the final strides to claim the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO) before a crowd of 18,384 in New Mexico March 25.
The rich payday, worth $400,000 to the winning connections, guarantees Daddy Nose Best a starting slot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May May 5.
Winner of the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) over the Tapeta racing surface at Golden Gate Fields in his most recent start Feb. 18, Daddy Nose Best was racing on dirt for the first time since last summer. Trained by Steve Asmussen for Texas owners Cathy and Robert Zollars, the winning son of Scat Daddy raced mostly on turf as a 2-year-old, winning two of six starts on grass.
Patricia Ann Elia Trust bred Daddy Nose Best, a $35,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2010. The winner is out of Follow Your Bliss, by 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Thunder Gulch.
Julien Leparoux guided the big bay to victory by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/8-mile Sunland Derby at Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino. The race is the same in which Mine That Bird finished fourth prior to winning the 2009 Run for the Roses.
The final time was 1:48.59 on a fast track, just off the 51-year-old track mark of 1:48 1/5 established by Winsham Lad in 1961.
“I got a fantastic effort from the horse," Leparoux said. "The pace was set up perfect for him. He had plenty left at the end.”
In winning for the fourth time in 10 lifetime races, Daddy Nose Best got a perfect set-up for his stalking style and handed leading trainer Asmussen his first Sunland Derby win.
Asmussen said that the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs would be the next assignment for Daddy Knows Best, who is to fly to Kentucky March 27.
“We have plenty of reasons for optimism," the trainer said. "We feel good about him handling the 1 1/8-mile distance in a respectable time. This is everything we had hoped for. The spacing of his races was right. This race fit perfectly with his timing. He showed a great degree of maturity today and has improved a lot since his two-year-old season.”
Betting was brisk on the 2012 Sunland Derby (Gr. III) program. All-sources handle on the 13-race card totaled $3,586,225. The tally was the largest handle ever recorded at Sunland and the largest handle in New Mexico racing history.
Daddy Nose Best was making his first start on dirt since finishing seventh as a maiden at Churchill Downs last July. He broke well in the Sunland Derby but dropped back soon after the start toward the rear of the eight-horse field.
Castaway, the 8-5 favorite breaking from the rail, vied with Ender Knievel to his outside right out of the gate. Those two set a suicidal pace (:22.48, :46.24, 1:10.83) as Isn't He Clever and Stirred Up dropped in behind the leaders by about four lengths. They were just in front of Daddy Nose Best, who raced off the rail in fifth or sixth.
Southwest Stakes (gr. III) divisional winner Castaway was the first to give way on the turn for home as Ender Knievel took over briefly. But 3-1 second choice Isn't He Clever, winner of the Borderland Derby in his most recent start over the track, got his head in front with three furlongs to run. He took command in the stretch for jockey Luis Contreras.
Daddy Nose Best split foes for Leparoux on the turn to emerge from the pack but still had 2 1/2 lengths to make up approaching mid-stretch. The determined bay colt kept coming, however, and responded well to rousing encouragement to hit the front past the sixteenth pole. He won while inching clear over a tiring Isn't He Clever.
The runner-up was 7 1/4 lengths clear of the show horse, Stirred Up, ridden at 4-1 odds by Martin Garcia. Stirred Up was considered the lesser of two entrants by trainer Bob Baffert, who also started Castaway. The favorite wound up seventh.
Daddy Nose Best improved his career log to 4-2-1 in 10 starts with earnings of $633,623. He has won once in three tries on dirt, including a runner-up finish in his maiden debut at Churchill June 9. Daddy Nose Best ran third in last year's Summer Stakes (Can-IIIT) on the Woodbine turf before a sixth-place showing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) in November.
Under equal weight of 122 pounds, Daddy Nose Best paid $9.40, $4.20, and $2.80 as the third choice. Isn't He Clever, trained by perennial leading Sunland trainer Henry Dominguez, returned $4.20 and $3.20 while rounding out a $39.40 exacta. Recent Santa Anita maiden victor Stirred Up paid $3.40 to show in his first try against winners.