WinStar Farm, who skipped the Lexington S. with DROSSELMEYER, gives the Sunland Derby winner their “endorsement” as a Kentucky Derby contender; there is tremendous depth of the breeding/racing operation created by Bill & Susan Casner and Elliott Walden.
The G.3 Sunland Derby looked very competitive going in. Last year’s 4th place finisher, MINE THAT BIRD, went on to win the Kentucky Derby - presented by Yum! brands. When the New Mexico track’s dust had cleared on March 28, 2010, ENDORSEMENT, not AMERICAN LION, RULE or SUPER SAVER, was the WinStar Kentucky Derby contender on the lips of ardent Derby Trail enthusiasts and horseplayers. The winner crossed the wire 1:48.46 after the bell rung, the fastest winning time for the race since it was extended to 9 furlongs in 2005. The 11-1 fourth choice ran down CONVEYANCE, a loose-on-the-lead, previously undefeated, multiple G.3-winning Bob Baffert trainee who’s also earned his way into the Derby starting gate.
While the son of DISTORTED HUMOR did not run a personal internal fraction as fast as ICE BOX did in the Florida Derby (click here for more on ICE BOX), I consider ENDORSEMENT’s third quarter mile fraction in :23.67 just as impressive considering the race situation. CONVEYANCE had slowed the pace down in the second ¼ mile (:24.33) after asserting himself as the alpha-speed through an opening ¼ in :23.71. Martin Garcia attempted to put the race away with a decisive third ¼ and CONVEYANCE responded gamely with a speedy :23.87 fraction.
Instead of extending the lead, CONVEYANCE and Garcia found the gap narrowed. The “double move” strategy had worked to sap the late energy of second and third choices NACHO FRIEND and TEMPTED TO TAPIT, who would finish 5th and 3rd, respectively. Surprisingly to Garcia and Baffert, it was recent Fair Grounds maiden special weight winner ENDORSEMENT, not CONVEYANCE, who was full of run. Robby Albarado had yet to move on the well-bred chestnut colt while Garcia had the 3-5 favorite in a drive on the turn.
ENDORSEMENT hit the lead at the 1/8 pole with yet another sub-:24 fraction and, as Trevor Denman would say, “it’s only a matter of how far” as the advantage was extended to three lengths at the wire. Trainer Shannon Ritter had her colt supremely prepared for the biggest race of his life, which qualified him for the biggest race of any three-year-old’s life on the first Saturday in May.
ENDORSEMENT’s fastest internal ½ mile fraction of :47.54 was the fastest ½ mile increment of any entrant in the field. It was imbedded in his personal final 5 furlongs clocked in an impressive 1:00.12, the fastest traditional dirt finish at 1 1/8 miles during this prep season.
By comparison, Derby favorite ESKENDEREYA has two 9 furlong races this year with his final 5 furlongs clocked in 1:00.56 (Wood Memorial) and 1:00.75 (Fountain of Youth). ESKENDEREYA’s fastest internal fractions in the Wood (:48.32) and FOY (:48.12) indicate his final five furlong times were aided by chasing relatively slow fractions. The pace in the Derby figures to be hot and heavy, which will force John Velazquez to use ESKENDEREYA early or take the chestnut colt farther back than he’d ever been on the dirt while chasing the fastest fractions he’s faced.
On past performance, ENDORSEMENT is equally as vulnerable as ESKENDEREYA considering their similar running styles and their expected positions close to the projected fast pace in the Derby. However, with just four career starts ENDORSEMENT is far from pigeon-holed as being a confirmed presser. His edge over ESKENDEREYA is that he’s successfully chased down a dyed-in-the-wool speed horse in CONVEYANCE, who ran relatively fast fractions and finished in 1:49.06 posting the third-fastest time in the six years it’s been run at 1 1/8 miles.
ENDORSEMENT will have five weeks between races, the same break that led to BARBARO’s impressive Kentucky Derby win. While it is a major stretch to mention ENDORSEMENT in the same breath with the ill-fated ’06 Derby winner, my point is that the break is ample time to recover from that career-best effort. There’s no reason to believe that he can’t at least repeat that effort at Churchill Downs. Will that be strong enough to contend for the win? Maybe, maybe not…but I will note that he feels strong enough at this stage of development for Robby Albarado to choose him over G.1 winner and top three money earning 3y.o. NOBLE’S PROMISE.
One thing is certain, win or lose in the Kentucky Derby, the Sunland Derby gave us the ‘endorsement’ that WinStar Farm will be a breeding/racing operation to respect along the Derby trail and beyond for many years to come!