Poni Colada comes into the WinStar Derby off a scorching eight-length victory in the Feb. 16 Borderland Derby.

Poni Colada comes into the WinStar Derby off a scorching eight-length victory in the Feb. 16 Borderland Derby.

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Asmussen Enters a Pair in WinStar Derby

Although ungraded, the WinStar carries a $600,000 purse for 3-year-olds.

These days, much of Steve Asmussen’s focus is on his pair of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contenders, Pyro and Z Fortune.

But on March 16, Asmussen has an opportunity to score some serious earnings with another pair of 3-year-olds, as he will enter Poni Colada and Ablaze With Spirit in the $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park. Although ungraded and therefore not considered a major Derby prep race, the 1 1/8-mile dirt race has attracted a field of 10, all looking to take home the hefty $360,000 top prize.

“The goal is to try to make as much money as possible,” said Asmussen, who admitted that neither horse is on the Kentucky Derby trail, even though Poni Colada is Triple Crown nominated.

Poni Colada enters off a scorching eight-length victory in the Feb. 16 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. The Volponi colt came from well off the pace in the 1 1/16-mile test, took over at the top of the stretch and won going away under Alfredo Juarez Jr.

Prior to that effort, Poni Colada finished a tiring sixth in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park after setting the pace. Asmussen said Juarez learned a valuable lesson in that one.

“I think the key (in the Borderland) was Alfredo getting him back off the lead,” Asmussen said. “There was a lot of early speed and the race kind of fell apart. He’s a big, ol’ horse and you can’t let him do too much, too early.”

Poni Colada is owned by Bob Zollars and Mark Wagner. Bred in Kentucky by Hopewell Investments, he has won three of seven lifetime starts and has earned $123,366. Juarez will ride again, breaking from the rail.

Heiligbrodt Racing’s Ablaze With Spirit also won last time out, taking the Jim’s Orbit Stakes by a half-length Feb. 16 on a sloppy track at Sam Houston. Like Poni Colada, he also rallied from off the pace. It was the stakes debut for the son of American Spirit, who also ran for the first time under Asmussen’s conditioning. The Texas-bred was previously trained by William White, and was 1-2-1 from four starts for him.

“He was pretty handy in his last start. It surprised me, really,” Asmussen said. “There was a lot of pace in that one too, and he put himself in good position.”

Garrett Gomez will make the trip to New Mexico to ride Ablaze With Spirit for the first time. They will break from post three.

Asmussen’s pair should get their main threat from Liberty Bull, who is coming off a third-place finish in the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn, where the son of Holy Bull was beaten a solid 5 ½ lengths in the one-mile test.

Prior to that, Liberty Bull won the Smarty Jones by a neck, the same race where Poni Colada was 7 ¾ lengths in his rear. Tom Amoss, who trains for owner Ken Maier, nominated Liberty Bull for the Kentucky Derby, but has also downplayed his colt’s chances for the classic.

On the board in all five of his efforts, Liberty Bull will break from post 10 with regular rider Eusebio Razo Jr. aboard

Also interestingly placed is Screen to Screen, who is winless in three maiden starts for trainer Bob Baffert. The son of Deputy Wild Cat missed by a nose in his last out, a 1 1/16-mile route on the Santa Anita Cushion Track. Aaron Gryder will ride the Florida-bred colt.

$600,000 WinStar Derby (Race 11, 5:28 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Poni Colada (KY), 122, Alfredo J. Juarez Jr.
2. Winsome Charm (FL), 122, Tyler Baze
3. Ablaze With Spirit (TX), 122, Garrett K. Gomez
4. No Jepordy (PA), 122, Corey S. Nakatani
5. Banker's Way (OK), 122, Jorge Martin Bourdieu
6. Capetown Royal (FL), 122, Joe A. Martinez
7. Cape Time (FL), 122, Ken S. Tohill
8. Deputyville (NM), 122, Glen Murphy
9. Screen to Screen (FL), 122, Aaron T. Gryder
10. Liberty Bull (KY), 122, Eusebio Razo Jr.