Trainer Tom Amoss shipped Liberty Bull, a gray son of Holy Bull owned by Kenneth Maier, to Sunland from Fair Grounds to collect the winning share of $300,000 for the 3-year-old event.
Gerard Melancon guided Liberty Bull to victory despite being carried wide while racing on the outside into the homestretch.
Liberty Bull had stalked in third while close to an easy pace on the outside before challenging the pacesetting No Jepordy and the maiden Screen to Screen on the far turn. Liberty Bull gradually got the lead from Screen to Screen as No Jepordy gave way. Those two battled to deep stretch when Liberty Bull drew away under a full drive to the wire.
“I noticed the two favorites (Winsome Charm and Poni Colada) were acting up a bit in the gate before the start. That peaked my confidence," said Melancon, who gained the mount after regular pilot Eddie Razo Jr. was injured at Hawthorne Park this week. "Winsome Charm did not show much speed. The pace was soft, and I knew I had a maiden and a longshot in front of me. So I just stayed close and waited for the turn for home. I knew I had a lot of horse turning for home.”
Ablaze With Spirit, ridden by Garrett Gomez, stalked along the inside and closed late for third, just a neck behind the runner-up.
The final time was 1:49.82 for the 1 1/8-mile test on a fast track.
No Jepordy, who finished fourth, set fractions of :23.49, :48.10, and 1:12.69 when challenged by Screen to Screen, who could wait no longer. Favored Winsome Charm (17-10) was restless in the starting gate and faded to last for jockey Tyler Baze after chasing the pace into the stretch.
Liberty Bull won Oaklawn Park's inaugural Smarty Jones by a neck Jan. 21 before his third-place showing -- five lengths behind the victorious Dennis of Cork -- in the Southwest. The Kentucky-bred colt has not been out of the money in six lifetime starts, winning three of them. His bankroll swelled to $403,592.
The earnings for Liberty Bull's WinStar Derby, an ungraded race, would not be counted toward the colt's qualification for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) should that race have more than 20 candidates for starting spots.
Out of the Dehere mare Lasting Sensation, Liberty Bull was bred by Lawrence and Janis Levin. He sold for $30,000 at Ocala Breeders Sale Company last April.
"This is my best day in racing ever," Maier said. "To pick this horse out as a two-year-old and win a race like this is a real thrill.”
Sent off as the narrow second choice in the field of nine, Liberty Bull paid $8, $4.60 and $2.80. Screen to Screen, in his fourth start as a maiden for trainer Bob Baffert, gave a strong effort for jockey Aaron Gryder to return $8.20 and $6 and was part of a $2 exacta worth $55.60. The closing Ablaze With Spirit, coming off a half-length win for Asmussen in a stakes at Sam Houston on a sloppy track Feb. 16, paid $2.80 to show.
It was one length to No Jepordy, followed by Deputyville, Cape Time, Borderland Derby winner Poni Colada, Banker's Way, and Winsome Charm. Capetown Royal scratched.
Earlier on the card, Mary H. Bowden's homebred Run Like Fire won the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby for state-bred 3-year-olds by a half-length over favored Brax. Jorge Bourdieu rode the dark bay son of Premeditation to victory for trainer Michael J. Welch, who took blinkers off his colt after a second-place finish behind Brax in the Pepsi Cola Handicap last time out.
Run Like Fire ($6.40) earned his sixth win in nine lifetime starts. He has banked $276,342.