Yesterday Chitu won the $800,000 Sunland Derby for Bob Baffert over stablemate Midnight Hawk. It was a mediocre field for $800,000 in my opinion, as the Sunland Derby always is. Now that the Kentucky Derby uses a points system instead of the Graded Stakes earnings, is the $800,000 purse really necessary?
New Mexico is a slots state, and that's the only reason the Sunland Derby exists. The race was only given Grade III status because Mine That Derby finished fourth in it before winning the Kentucky Debry. We've been seeing lately that slots are not a guarantee, they can be taken away, so wouldn't it make sense to cut the purse of the Sunland Derby just in case?
Let's say the purse was cut to $500,000. Since it would still be worth the 50 Kentucky Derby points and $250,000 to the winner, it would likely attract the same quality field as it usually does, but it would give the track an extra $300,000 to put away for a rainy day. Furthermore, the handle on the race is not paying for even half of the purse. $1,277,009 was bet on the Sunland Derby yesterday (not including any multi-race wagers) for a takeout of $271,832. Slots are paying for 2/3 of the purse. Assuming the same sort of field would be compiled for $500,000, the handle would be able to pay for about half of the purse.
Would cutting the purse make the Sunland Derby less special? No. Is having an extra $300,000 in the bank in case of in case smart? I think so. Slots welfare can disappear at any time. Sunland Park would be smart to be prepared for that, because it can certainly happen to them.