Fast-developing Govenor Charlie became the latest colt to jump into the Triple Crown fray when the Bob Baffert trainee dominated eight 3-year-old opponents in winning the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO) March 24 at Sunland Park in New Mexico.
Govenor Charlie, winning by five lengths, set a track mark at Sunland, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.54.
Though he was facing winners for the first time, the son of Midnight Lute was no secret to the bettors, who made him the 13-10 favorite. Govenor Charlie earned 50 points toward a coveted start in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) under the new Derby qualifying system.
Martin Garcia delivered Govenor Charlie to the winner's circle for Baffert and owner/breeder Mike Pegram to cap a huge day for the longtime partners. A race earlier, Midnight Lucky secured the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks with Rafael Bejarano riding by eight lengths for Baffert and Pegram. Midnight Lucky, who like Govenor Charlie has little experience, earned her way into this year's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with the victory.
"It's a pretty good day," Pegram said. "(Govenor Charlie) has been training real good. He broke out, battled and had something left at the end."
The winner earned $400,000 for the Sunland Derby, his second victory in a row following a runner-up finish in his debut sprinting Jan. 19 at Santa Anita Park. In his prior race at one mile, Govenor Charlie graduated in a game effort in his first route try while earning a 100 Beyer figure.
"We didn't figure the extra eighth of a mile would be an issue," Pegram said. "He is getting better with each race. Martin told him to go, and he went."
Govenor Charlie is out of the unraced Storm Cat mare Silverbulletway, whose dam was Pegram's champion Silverbulletday.
This was the second win for Baffert in the Sunland Derby, New Mexico's richest race for Thoroughbreds. The Hall of Fame conditioner previously won the race in 2006 with Pegram's Wanna Runner when the race was known as the WinStar Derby. Baffert was well covered in this year's renewal, also sending out second choice Shakin It Up, winner of the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park last time. Shakin It Up was not a factor, however, trailing for the opening half-mile and gaining mildly in the stretch for fourth.
Govenor Charlie was forwardly positioned in third on the outside early as Saint Prado, pushed along by Abraham, showed good early speed for a half-mile. Govenor Charlie continued to race with the leaders while three wide to the far turn and began to separate himself from the weakening pacesetters when asked for more by Garcia at the quarter pole.
The quarter-mile fractions were quick (:22.74, :46.22, 1:09.96), but Govenor Charlie was not taxed, shaking clear in upper stretch with only the stalking Show Some Magic and Luis Contreras to beat in the drive. Govenor Charlie led by two at the furlong mark and continued to draw off under steady urging from Garcia.
"Bob told me to ride with confidence," Garcia said. "We were on the front and I felt like I had a lot of horse. He can wait on company sometimes, but at the top of the stretch he just took off and exploded."
Govenor Charlie bettered the former Sunland track mark of 1:48.20 held by Winsham Lad since 1961.
"I feel he is a special horse," Garcia said. "In only his second race going a distance, he beat good ones. Just look at how he did it."
Riley Allison Futurity winner Show Some Magic, sent off at 26-1, was well clear in second. He finished 3 1/4 lengths better than the Todd Pletcher-trained Abraham, ridden by John Velazquez, with Shakin It Up a length farther back in fourth. Then came Stormdriver, Mudflats, Saint Prado, Dry Summer, and Just Win Baby.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Govenor Charlie paid $4.60, $3.40, $2.80. Locally based Show Some Magic, from the barn of Henry Dominguez for owners Kirk and Judy Robison, returned $17.20 and $8.20. He completed a $65 exacta. Abraham, who like the winner was facing winners for the first time, paid $3.40 to show.
A crowd of 18,184 came out for the 12-race Sunland Derby card. The all-sources handle of $3,820,986 set a track and state record for a single card.