The El Paso Times Stakes features a field of 8 fillies to go 6 1/2 furlongs. Of the 8 runners, there are 4 in the field that look very competitive. From a betting perspective, this might turn out to be an interesting race. Often at Sunland, and other New Mexico tracks, we see false favorites. I could see this happening here, which could lead to some good value.
#2 Challenging is making her 2nd lifetime start for Alex Hartman and Foxpointe Thoroughbreds. She absolutely romped in her Maiden Special Weight debut at this distance. She's had two half-mile works since that race, the first in 49.20, average, and the 2nd in 51.40, slow. I don't know why that work was so slow, but I doubt Hartman would enter her if he was concerned, so I'll trust his judgement. Ry Eikleberry, my personal favorite New Mexico jockey, will be riding, so I'll take this filly to win, hoping she doesn't bounce off of her debut.
Steve Asmussen is taking a shot here with #7 Melody Lady, a Maiden Special Weight winner at the Fair Grounds, which is definitely a class edge compared to a New Mexico MSW. Melody Lady is the 5-2 Morning Line favorite, and this the filly I see being the 'false favorite' here. Of course she looks good here, but she can be beat. The ship from New Orleans to Sunland is a long one, and that might be stressful and lead to a poor performance. The filly that finished 2nd to her at Fair Grounds, Anahauc, came back to finish 4th as a 4-5 favorite, being beat by 3 first time starters. Are all 3 of those horses bound to be talented stakes runners? I doubt it. I respect this filly, but if the price is too low, which I think it will be, it's worth trying to beat her, cause it very well can be done.
Followers of the California Fair Circuit may remember #4 Shesatopattraction, who was a dominant 9 length winner in her debut at Pleasanton for $12,500. 8 days later she ran against stakes company, 4th beaten 12 3/4 lengths, but only beaten 1 3/4 lengths for 2nd. She then shipped to New Mexico, joined the Henry Dominguez stable, and pulled off a 7-1 upset in the Truth or Consequences Stakes at Zia Park, where she managed to beat Flamboyance, who is running here. That start was her first in 150 days. My concern: she was a vet scratch on January 6th in the Allowance that Flamboyance came back to win. She worked a half in 49.80 the next day, so most likely it was minor, but I never like to see vet scratches. She should be tough, she is the only Stakes winner in the field.
Now, a Thoroughbred stakes in New Mexico would feel incomplete without a Justin Evans runner. #5 Flamboyance looks like the speed here to me, but that's not a guarantee, given her last 2 races. Since coming to New Mexico she's 2 for 3, with wins in a Zia MSW and an Allowance Optional Claimer here at Sunland, and a runner up finish behind Shesatopattraction in the Truth or Consequences. She loses Ry Eikleberry and picks up Miguel Hernandez. Will she prove better than Shesatopattraction this time? Maybe. One thing for sure, Justin Evans doesn't run horses that he doesn't think can win, and his 32% win percentage at this meet shows that. We'll see.
The other runners in this field are #1 Comic Kitty, who broke her maiden in a $15,000 claimer before finishing 3rd behind Flamboyance, #3 Oneotwo, who's yet to finish in the money in 3 starts since her Maiden Special Weight win at Arapahoe in June, #6 Bubba's My Name, who bombed last time out in the Arizona Juvenile Fillies at Turf Paradise, and #8 Fraudulentfootnote, who's yet to break her maiden in 6 starts, and has never been closer than 3 1/2 lengths.
This race is an interesting puzzle. After this, we'll see the Sunland Oaks picture develop further in February, when the Island Fashion Stakes is run as the 2nd local prep. As I said earlier, the Sunland Park Oaks is worth 50 points for the Kentucky Oaks, so you may just see a future Kentucky Oaks starter in this race. Hell, you might just see a future Kentucky Oaks winner, stranger things have happened.