Legendary trainer Bob Baffert flexed his muscle in Sunday's Grade 3 Sunland Derby from Sunland, N.M. Chitu took the top and was followed by Midnight Hawk. Both are Baffert horses.
The Downey Profile tweeted the results:
It's Chitu by 2 over Midnight Hawk in the Sunland Derby. Commissioner closes for 3d, Rebranded 4th. 1:47.88.— The Downey Profile (@DowneyProfile) March 23, 2014
Chitu, a chestnut colt, was the pre-race favorite for this stakes race, which is an important stop in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert's horses made a strong push up the Derby leaderboard, and both have likely already earned enough to make the Derby field. Horse Racing Aces agrees:
Chitu held off Midnight Hawk for the win in the Sunland Derby, but both horses may have earned enough points to... http://t.co/tLd4g0V6JS— Horse Racing Aces (@HorseRacingAces) March 24, 2014
The Kentucky Derby tweeted the points each horse received:
Sunland Derby finish (Road to #KYDerby points): 1: 9-Chitu (50) 2: 7-Midnight Hawk (20) 3: 3-Commissioner (10) 4: 8-Rebranded (5)— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) March 24, 2014
As the El Paso Times' Felix Chavez tweets, Baffert's decision on Chitu's status for the Kentucky Derby will be coming soon:
Trainer Bob Baffert said decision on whether Sunland Derby winner Chitu will run in Kentucky Derby will come next week— Felix Chavez (@Fchavezeptimes) March 24, 2014
Still, it wasn't either of Baffert's horses that impressed the most. I'll have more on that in a moment, but first, have a look at the results from the race:
Both Chitu, ridden by Martin Garcia, and Midnight Hawk, ridden by Mike E. Smith, broke well and kept pace with early leader Garen.
Garen began to fade. Meanwhile, Chitu had the better finishing kick between he and stablemate Midnight Hawk and was on the inside. Both tired down the stretch, however, in this 1 1/8-mile race.
This is not a great sign for Derby success. Meanwhile, Commissioner, ridden by John Velazquez, grabbed attention with a hard-closing finish.
Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman helps explain:
Nice run by Commissioner to get 3rd after stumbling badly at start, losing position. #SunlandDerby— Jay Privman (@DRFPrivman) March 24, 2014
Commissioner was seven lengths off the lead, but the closing speed was impossible to miss.
The Todd Pletcher horse was one of the pre-race favorites and showed why with his strong finish. To truly reach his potential, Commissioner will have to clean up his starts. This will be especially important in the huge field at the Kentucky Derby, should Commissioner be in the race.
After Sunday's showing, I suspect Pletcher will be pushing to get Commissioner in the field.
In the meantime, Pletcher will have to listen to all the adulation headed Baffert's way. Such are the spoils of taking the top two spots.
For the win, Chitu earned $400,000 and has now won three of his four career starts.