Unbeaten and just slightly tested in four tries, Conveyance heads the field for the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in New Mexico. The March 28 race, which attracted a field of nine 3-year-olds, carries graded status for the first time in 2010 and is the second-richest Kentucky Derby prep race in North America .
Trained by Bob Baffert for owner Zabeel Racing International, Conveyance is the horse to beat at morning line odds of 9-5 in the 1 1/8-mile test. The gray/roan son of Indian Charlie--Emptythetill, by Holy Bull, currently tied for 15th in graded stakes earnings with Awesome Act among the top sophomores in the nation, can sew up a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with a victory.
“This is definitely the best horse I’ve ever shipped to Sunland," Baffert said. "We need our 'A' team because this is a very nice field. Conveyance is a very talented horse. The trip to Sunland will be good for him.”
The first prize check is worth $400,000.
Baffert won the 2006 WinStar Derby with Wanna Runner. The Hall of Fame trainer won his first $100,000 stakes race at Sunland Park in the early 1980s.
The Sunland Derby favorite shipped in comfortably from a Tex Sutton jet on the morning of March 24 and was relaxing nicely in a Sunland Park stall in the afternoon.
His main rivals figure to be a pair of East Coast shippers: Tempted to Tapit (3-1), runner-up in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds last month, and Nacho Friend (9-2), coming off a third in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct three weeks ago.
Conveyance is being asked to go longer than he ever has before in the Sunland Derby. In his last race Feb. 20, he led from gate to wire in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) over one mile at Oaklawn Park, his first try on dirt following three wins on synthetic tracks.
After pushing his advantage to 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole in the Southwest, he outlasted the closing Dublin to win by three parts of a length while completing the mile in 1:36 4/5 on a fast track. Martin Garcia, who rode Conveyance to victory, retains the mount.
Conveyance won Santa Anita's one-mile San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) by 1 3/4 lengths prior to the Southwest. He began his career with two victories last fall against maidens and first-level allowance foes. In all, his four victories, all accomplished on the front end, have come by a combined total of 11 lengths. He breaks from post 3 for Baffert, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner who also trains one of the favorites for this year's Run for the Roses, Lookin at Lucky .
Gainesway Stable's Tempted to Tapit also looks to move up on the graded earnings list, where he is tied for 34th after earning $60,000 for his runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star Feb. 20. The Steve Klesaris-trained son of Tapit --Tempting Note, by Editor's Note, could not catch the winner, Discreetly Mine, that day while racing second all the way around, beaten by 1 1/2 lengths.
Tempted to Tapit has shown good speed in all five of his prior races, which include a win and three seconds. The gray/roan gelding broke his maiden prior to the Risen Star in his fourth start by 11 1/2 lengths on a muddy track at Aqueduct over one mile on the inner track. David Cohen, who has been aboard Tempted to Tapit in his two most recent starts, will ride again. They leave from the far outside post.
Nacho Friend, trained by Kelly Breen for George and Lori Hall, is making just his fourth lifetime start and second this year following a solid effort in the March 6 Gotham. Stalking in fourth in the 1 1/16-mile inner track event, he made a four-wide bid to draw close before weakening late and finishing three lengths behind the victorious Awesome Act.
The colt by Friends Lake--You'renotlistening, by Kennedy Road, broke his maiden at first asking by six lengths on a sloppy track at Monmouth Park going five furlongs last June. He jumped directly into Saratoga's Sanford Stakes (gr. II) seven weeks later, where he was hampered by traffic in the stretch and wound up fourth, beaten by just one length.
Joe Bravo has been aboard Nacho Friend in all of his races so far. They drew post 2.
Trying two turns for the first time in the Sunland Derby is Joseph LaCombe's homebred Classical Slew (6-1), who comes off a third-place finish behind Sidney's Candy in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Feb. 15. Sidney's Candy went on to win the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 13.
Trained by Doug O'Neill, who has had considerable success with his shippers to Sunland in recent years, Classical Slew was making his first start in more than six months in the San Vicente. The Bernstein colt also ran third in last summer's Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III).
Storming Saint (8-1) is the best local hope here after winning Sunland's Borderland Derby via disqualification for trainer Henry Dominguez Feb. 27. Storming Saint, who picked up his first stakes win as the favorite in the Borderland, was jostled through the stretch by his stablemate, Raise the Bridle, causing the stewards to reverse the order of the top two finishers. Storming Saint, a colt by Sweetsouthernsaint, has won two of five starts but is not nominated to the Triple Crown.
Tom Capehart's Fog Alert (12-1) weakened to fourth last time out in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) after leading briefly in the stretch at Golden Gate Fields. He makes his first start for trainer Brant Taylor.
The Sunland Derby headlines a huge stakes day at Sunland Park, which is just across the New Mexico border from El Paso, Tex. Also on the $1.4 million program is the $200,000 Sunland Oaks, the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap, and three stakes for state breds -- the $125,000 La Coneja, the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby and the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Oaks.
$800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III, Race 12, 5:45 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Jockey, Trainer
1. Storming Saint (FL), L Contreras, H Dominguez
2. Nacho Friend (KY), J Bravo, K J Breen
3. Conveyance (KY), M Garcia, B Baffert
4. McKenna's Justice (KY), K S Tohill, C A Hartman
5. Endorsement (KY), R Albarado, S Ritter
6. Classical Slew (KY), T Baze, D F O'Neill
7. Fog Alert (KY), A J Juarez, Jr., L B Taylor
8. Guiltbyassociation (KY), I D Enriquez, T W Fincher
9. Tempted to Tapit (KY), D Cohen, S Klesaris
All carry 122 pounds.