Twice the Appeal, disqualified in his prior start, made the most of a second chance when he collared Astrology near mid-stretch en route to a 1 1/2-length victory in the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) in New Mexico (VIDEO).
Such is the nature of the trail to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I) that the 25-1 shot Twice the Appeal, heretofore unmentioned by the experts, jumps all the way into the top 10 on the graded earnings list with the $400,000 first prize. Graded earnings are used to determine preference for a spot in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses May 7.
Jeff Bonde trains the late-running son of Successful Appeal for Rusty Brown, Victor Flores, and Henry Hernandez. Twice the Appeal ran second in his stakes debut, the Turf Paradise Derby in Arizona Feb. 26, but was disqualified to fourth for interference after drifting in on a couple of rivals late.
A fast pace set it up for Twice the Appeal, who advanced from sixth into contention off the turn for jockey Christian Santiago Reyes and overtook a staggering Astrology, making his first start since finishing second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill Downs Nov. 27. Twice the Appeal drew away from the second choice leaving the sixteenth pole for the win in a time of 1:50.91 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track.
“I called upon him at the three-eighths pole and he really responded," said Reyes after the most lucrative win of his career. "He felt very good at the top of the stretch. I could tell he would run big. I even had something left at the end.”
Astrology, the only graded winner in the Sunland Derby, had taken a narrow half-length lead to the furlong mark but was unable to last. With Julien Leparoux aboard, Astrology kept to the place spot by a desperate head over the onrushing Ruler On Ice and Jose Valdivia Jr. in the field of 11 3-year-olds.
Twice the Appeal, who raced in California for Bonde prior to his most recent race, was bred in Kentucky by John T. L. Jones III. Out of the Cormorant mare Double Boarded, the dark bay/brown colt sold for $35,000 at Barretts last May.
He broke his maiden at Santa Anita against $30,000 maiden claimers on a wet-fast track Dec. 29 in his seventh start and followed that up with a victory over a starter allowance field at one mile Jan. 14. Twice the Appeal shipped to Arizona and contested the 1 1/16-mile Turf Paradise Derby, where he ran for trainer Mike Chambers.
Bonde, who plans to go to the Derby with Twice the Appeal, said in the post-race press conference: “He was a late May foal so it took some time to figure the key to him. He became more of a professional when we started to run him in route races. We saw the potential in him and that’s why we came here.
"He really blossomed at Santa Anita and that gave us the inspiration. We felt he could get the trip. He acted really sharp since shipping in on Thursday. He has been on his toes. We wanted to make one big late run.”
Co-owner Brown added. "He ran his eyeballs out today. I haven’t had any sleep in days. He has become a different horse since switching from synthetic to dirt. We are going to the Kentucky Derby.”
The Sunland victory improved Twice the Appeal's career mark to 3-2-1 in 10 starts with earnings of $449,920.
Sinai, the 2-1 favorite, broke a step slowly but recovered quickly to forge the early lead over Nacho Saint, Astrology, and R Skydiver. But the pace was much too quick -- :22.61 for the opening quarter-mile, :45.03 for the half, and 1:10.89 for six furlongs. Sinai, who had never been farther than seven furlongs, was in deep trouble on the final turn as Astrology, four wide, got the advantage.
But Astrology, whose recent training for trainer Steve Asmussen was adversely affected by an illness and rainy weather in Southern California, could not keep off Twice the Appeal, who progressed to third entering the stretch and left Nacho Saint behind before tackling the leader.
Ruler On Ice, buried in traffic along the inside for much of the journey, emerged from the pack after angling out on the final turn and losing a bit of ground. He came home willingly while five paths wide to just miss the bob for second.
That was important to Astrology's connections, Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton, who picked up $176,000 in graded earnings toward a possible start in the Derby if their charge is fit enough. Third place was worth $96,000 to Ruler on Ice's owners George and Lori Hall, who already have Louisiana Derby (gr. I) winner Pants On Fire in the Derby mix.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Twice the Appeal paid $53.20, $14.80, and $10 as ninth choice of bettors. Astrology, off at 5-2, returned $4 and $3. The exacta was worth $275.20. Ruler On Ice was $4.60 to show.
It's My Party finished fourth, followed by Turf Paradise Derby winner Beer Meister, Nacho Saint, Borderland Derby victor Fusa Code, R Skydiver, Supreme Ruler, Behold de Buy, and Sinai, who stopped badly and was eased home by Martin Garcia.
Total wagering on the Sunland Derby program was a state and track record of $2,963,240. A record crowd of 18,571 fans came to watch and wager on the 13-race card.