Steve Asmussen's latest bend on the Triple Crown trail took the two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer back to New Mexico Feb. 26 where his maiden Fusa Code upset the field in the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park (VIDEO) .
Asmussen, the scourge of the southwest before his stable went national, collected his fifth win since 2001 in the Borderland, the major local 3-year-old prep for the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) that takes place March 27.
A 7-1 shot ridden by Justin Shepherd, Fusa Code took the lead from 3-2 favorite Special Kid at the top of the short Sunland stretch but drifted out after getting the advantage. Only a vigorous effort from Shepherd got the son of Fusaichi Pegasus straightened out.
Fusa Code got home by three-quarters of a length over the late-arriving Behold de Buy in spite of weaving a bit erratically in the final sixteenth of a mile. The Doug O'Neill-trained Special Kid, who had defeated Fusa Code twice before at the current Santa Anita meet, was nosed for second.
The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event was 1:45.06 over a fast track.
“He’s a very talented horse," Shepherd said from the winner's circle. "Steve did a great job with him. He’s still a little green, maybe too talented for his own good. Once he got the lead, he tried waiting on them. He should like more distance.”
Fusa Code, owned by Mary and Robert Zollars, won for the first time in five starts. The gelding was coming off a third-place effort in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race in which he finished a half-length behind the victorious Special Kid after getting the lead between horses late.
The gelding began his career by running fifth at Belmont Park last September and then finished second in a maiden event over one mile at Churchill Downs Nov. 19. Fusa Code surfaced at Santa Anita as part of a string his trainer decided to send west this winter.
Orion Xpress broke strongly from the rail in the Borderland and led the pressing Special Kid through fractions of :24.00, :48.62, and 1:13.16 before dropping back on the final turn. Fusa Code stalked in third on the outside of Special Kid, who led briefly before Fusa Code took over with a furlong-and-a-half to run.
In spite of drifting, he held on gamely to defeat Behold de Buy, who was last early for jockey Ken Tohill and rallied six wide on the final turn. Special Kid, ridden by Christian Santiago Reyes, also finished gamely in his first start since breaking his maiden.
R Skydiver finished evenly for fourth, followed by What the Toccet, Carsoncitygambler, It's My Party, Expecting Cash, Orion Xpress and Mason's Pegasus.
Northwest Farms bred Fusa Code, who is out of the Lost Code mare Lasting Code, in Kentucky. The dark bay sold for $55,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He earned $60,000 for the victory, extending his career total to $82,844.
Fusa Code paid $16.60, $7.20, and $4.60 and topped a whopping $339.20 exacta. The 22-1 shot Behold de Buy, the only prior stakes winner in the field, returned $20 and $11.20. Special Kid paid $3 to show.