Astrology has been a bit star-crossed so far in 2011, but the well-regarded son of A.P. Indy will finally get his 3-year-old season started in the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby (gr. III) in New Mexico March 27.
"A lot is on the line with Astrology," trainer Steve Asmussen said during a national teleconference March 22. "He's behind schedule. He has the opportunity to prove something that (El Camino Real Derby winner) Silver Medallion already proved, that he can beat that level of horse at a mile and an eighth."
Julien Leparoux will ride Astrology, the 5-2 morning line favorite, for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile event. They drew the far outside post in the field of 11.
Astrology, an impressive 2 3/4-length winner in the one-mile Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs last fall, has not been out since his runner-up finish to Santiva by a half-length in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) over the same track Nov. 27.
Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables homebred, co-owned by George Bolton, is out of the Quiet American mare Quiet Eclipse. The bay colt was to have made his seasonable debut in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita March 12, "but he was a little under the weather … just not himself," Asmussen said.
"He's a graded stakes-winning colt with a tremendous pedigree," the trainer added. "The Sunland Derby is an ambitious start for his 3-year-old debut, but there's a tremendous amount at stake considering the impressive individual he is. There's a lot of questions. But one thing, I feel very good about the health and condition of the horse right now.
"He's an absolutely beautiful individual, but it's a tall order to go a mile and an eighth off the bench."
After missing the San Felipe, there weren't many options left for Astrology's first start.
"Sunland is very similar to Santa Anita; it plays similar tactically," Asmussen said. "The only 3-year-old stakes race left in California is the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). So, Sunland seemed like a better option."
Asmussen said Silver Medallion is being pointed to the April 9 Santa Anita Derby.
Astrology worked seven furlongs at Santa Anita March 15 in 1:25 1/5, but has missed some training due to bad weather in Southern California this winter. He turned in a half-mile move in a handy :49 2/5 March 23.
Asmussen also entered Borderland Derby winner Fusa Code in the Sunland Derby, which is the 12th race on a stakes-filled 13-race card. Probable post for the main event is 5:45 p.m. MDT. The program also includes the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, the $100,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap for fillies and mares at one mile, and three stakes events for New Mexico-bred Thoroughbreds worth a total of $320,000.
Fusa Code, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus owned by Mary and Robert Zollars, scored a 7-1 upset in the Borderland, which is Sunland's main prep for the Sunland Derby. He won the 1 1/16-mile test by three-quarters of a length after stalking the pace into the lane. It was the $55,000 yearling's maiden win from five starts.
Other top contenders in the Sunland Derby are Nacho Saint, fourth in Aqueduct's Gotham Stakes (gr. III) on the inner track March 5, and Sinai, stretching out for trainer Bob Baffert following a fourth in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Feb. 20.
Nacho Saint, a son of Yes It's True conditioned by Kelly Breen for owners George and Lori Hall, broke his maiden by 4 1/4 lengths going one mile at Aqueduct as the odds-on choice Jan. 28.
The chestnut colt had some trouble in the 1 1/16-mile Gotham, striking the starting gate at the break. He stalked, then pressed the pace in fourth before flattening out in the stretch and finished 4 3/4 lengths behind heavy favorite Stay Thirsty .
Nacho Saint ran four times as a 2-year-old without winning but was a willing second in Saratoga's six-furlong Sanford Stakes (gr. II) over a "good" track July 25. He showed a fondness for the Sunland main track when he worked a bullet half-mile in :46 4/5 March 21, best of 23 drills at the distance.
Breen also entered the Halls' Ruler On Ice, a first-level allowance winner going two turns at Parx Racing in his most recent start Feb. 22. The Roman Ruler gelding has won two of his past three races. Nacho Saint and Ruler On Ice race uncoupled.
Zayat Stables' Sinai won his debut maiden try at Hollywood Park by two lengths Dec. 18 but has lost against stakes competition in his two races since. The gray/roan Rockport Harbor colt finished third in the San Pedro Stakes Jan. 17 and was well-backed in the San Vicente at 5-1. But he fell off the pace early and failed to fire, finishing fifth, eight lengths behind his victorious Baffert stablemate The Factor .
Besides Fusa Code, others coming out of the Borderland Derby are Behold de Buy, who closed much ground to be second, R Skydiver (fourth), and It's My Party (seventh).
Beer Meister was a two-length winner of the Turf Paradise Derby Feb. 26 at odds of 40-1. Twice the Appeal, second in that race, also is in the Sunland. Oaklawn Park shipper Supreme Ruler completes the field.
$800,000 Sunland Park Derby (gr. III, Race 12, 5:45 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Ruler On Ice (KY), J Valdivia Jr., K J Breen, 8/1
2. R Skydiver (CA), A Medellin, H Dominguez, 12/1
3. Fusa Code (KY), J Shepherd, S M Asmussen, 8/1
4. It's My Party (KY), J M Bourdieu, C A Hartman, 12/1
5. Behold de Buy (KY), K S Tohill, J Salisbury, 12/1
6. Supreme Ruler (KY), J K Court, W H Fires, 20/1
7. Sinai (KY), M Garcia, B Baffert, 6/1
8. Nacho Saint (KY), J Bravo, K J Breen, 7/2
9. Twice the Appeal (KY), C Santiago Reyes, J Bonde, 15/1
10. Beer Meister (KY), G W Corbett, M Ortiz Sr., 15/1
11. Astrology (KY), J R Leparoux, S M Asmussen, 5/2
Blinkers On: Sinai
All carry 122 pounds.