One of several Southern California shippers in the field of a dozen 3-year-olds, the versatile Kelly Leak took advantage of a quick pace in the 1 1/8-mile event to rally from off the pace. With Smith aboard him for the first time, the versatile son of Runaway Groom circled the field on the far turn and struck the lead at the top of the stretch. Kelly Leak opened a commanding lead in the lane and won under consistent urging.
Mythical Power closed some of the gap late to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Scorewithcater, who edged Mine that Bird by a neck for the show spot. The final time was a solid 1:50.02 on a fast track.
Kelly Leak, who was coming off a one-mile turf allowance victory at Santa Anita Park Feb. 22 for trainer Mike Machowsky, has now won on all three types of racing surfaces, having broken his maiden in his debut on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track last June.
In addition, Kelly Leak, who was supplemented to the Sunland Derby for $10,000, earned an additional $100,000 bonus for his connections by virtue of his graded stakes earnings in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) last summer, even though he was disqualified in that race from first to fourth for interference in the stretch. The bonus made the winning purse $500,000 and increased Kelly Leak's career earnings $621,890.
Trying to improve the quality of the field in hopes of earning the race graded status, Sunland officials offered a $100,000 bonus this year to any horse that had prior graded stakes earnings.
“It was a good win,” Machowsky said. “Mike Smith did a great job of riding the horse all the way around, particularly down the stretch. Kelly Leak ships well and handled this track well.”
Machowsky said Kelly Leak, who is not nominated to the Triple Crown, could be headed for the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) in Texas or the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park later this year.
Smith allowed Kelly Leak to relax early as second choice Mayor Marv and Santamonicacanyondueled through the first six furlongs, posting heated fractions of :22.07, :45.32, and 1:10.12. Mayor Marv, who along with Mythical Power hails from the barn of Bob Baffert, began to tire after that as Mine That Bird, rallying on the outside on the final turn, and Mythical Power moved into contention.
However, Kelly Leak, seventh at the halfway point of the race, began picking off his rivals on the far outside and was traveling best of all. He got the lead from Mine That Bird and Santamonicacanyon and opened up on his rivals in the lane. He was well in control by two lengths past the eighth pole when Mythical Power began cutting into the advantage, but the challenger ran out of time before putting any real pressure on the winner.
A $110,000 Ocala Breeders' Sale Co. purchase one year ago, Kelly Leak has a 3-2-1 mark in eight starts for owners Blahut Racing, Dennis Avila, Dave Johnson, et al. Bred in Florida by Luis de Hechavarria, the bay colt is out of Hasty Appeal, by World Appeal.
Kelly Leak paid $6.60, $4, and $3.40. Mythical Power, coming off a maiden win in his third start for Baffert, turned in a big effort to finish second, returning $7.20 and $4.80. The $2 exacta was worth $46.20. Scorewithcater, winner of the Borderland Derby at Sunland for Doug O'Neill in his most recent try, paid $5.80 to show.
Mine That Bird was followed by Advice, Dumar, Mark S the Cooler, Santamonicacanyon, Infernal, Smokin' Legend, Mayor Marv, and Valid Stripes.