Coming Next Spring: The Sunland Derby

Coming Next Spring: The Sunland Derby
Photo: Coady Photography
Liberty Bull won the WinStar Derby in 2008.
Coming next spring to a racetrack in southern New Mexico: the $800,000 Sunland Derby.

Sunland Park officials in Albuquerque announced May 29 that the track’s premier race, formerly known as the WinStar Derby, will be renamed the Sunland Derby. It will carry an $800,000 purse with potential to reach $1 million.

“What we’re trying to do is attract more top-quality horses going into the race,” Sunland Park racing director Dustin Dix said.

Dix said the track, located just outside El Paso, Texas, is ending its sponsorship agreement on good terms with Kentucky-based WinStar Farms. Owner Stan Fulton added $200,000 to the $600,000 purse from this year’s race and wanted Sunland’s name to be featured.

“It was just a business decision,” Dix said. “It wasn’t anything with us and WinStar not being happy with each other.”

Among the incentives aimed at drawing top horses are a $200,000 bonus to any Sunland Derby winner who carries a previous grade I victory. The baseline winner’s share for the Sunland Derby is $400,000.

The track also is offering a $100,000 bonus any 3-year-old winner with any other previous graded earnings.

“I would think we can attract horses that are already accomplished,” Dix said. “We’re really trying to target the 26 graded races for 2-year-olds that are being run this year.”

Next spring’s running of the race, scheduled for March 29, will be the seventh edition of Sunland Park’s signature event.

All other features of the race remain the same, including the 1 1/8-mile distance and restricting the field to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds.

Sunland Park has been trying in recent years to secure a graded rating for the event, billed as the world’s richest ungraded stakes race. Dix said prospects are slim until the grading committee meets in the fall of 2009.

“We expect that their stance will be based on what the horses do in our derby, so maybe not this year,” Dix said. “That’s what we’re hoping, anyway.”

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