Monday, 3 April 2017

Sunland Derby Weekend Photoblog

People who follow my Twitter or followed this blog when I used it for non-work related handicapping may know that Sunland Park has long been a favourite track of mine. I used to follow it quite closely because they had high level Quarter Horse racing and a competitive enough Thoroughbred program. I really enjoyed following it and I had wanted to visit for a long time. This year, I finally got my opportunity. I found a reasonably priced trip to El Paso on Sunland Derby weekend, packed my things and headed down.

      Racing-wise it was a well-rounded weekend. Friday was an all Quarter Horse day consisting of nine trials to the G2 West Texas Futurity. Saturday and Sunday were both all Thoroughbred days, with Saturday being highlighted by three trials to the Copper Top Futurity, some of the first two year old races for Thoroughbreds of the year, and Sunday being Sunland Derby day, with seven Stakes races.
Category Five and Esgar Ramirez after winning West Texas Futurity trial #3

Eagles Tenaya with trainer Paul Jones' blinkers

Mr Perrys Tres Seis with Adrian Ramos

Eagle Approach and Alonsa Rivera. He has a cool blue eye but the watermark blocks it

Suenos Dineros and Jose Enriquez, fastest qualifier, 300 yards in 15.215, 90SI

Post parade, led by Corona for Milady and Cody Jensen

Significant Red winning under Felipe Garcia-Luna

House Edge and Manuel Gutierrez

G. R. Carter, Jr

Bf  Diversion (#5) and Saginaw Trail finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in their trial

Pops, trained by Guadalupe Munoz, Jr, a common name in the Sunland program

Domynation winning the final trial under G. R. Carter, Jr.
The Quarter Horse day was very cool for me. Since all of my live Quarter Horse racing experiences have been on the eastern half of the continent, this was my first time getting to see riders like Esgar Ramirez, G. R. Carter, Jr and Cody Jensen in person. One of my favourite Quarter Horse jocks, Manuel Gutierrez was there, but I have seen him before at Hialeah. I did get to meet Manuel and took a selfie with him, so that was very cool.

Jeremiah Who acting up in the paddock before the Copper Top Futurity trials

Gabby Who

Manor Man (#9) and Ry Eikelberry hold off Fancy Stripe in Saturday's fourth race

Coming off of the turn

Storm the Beach and Enrique Gomez pulled off a 7-1 mild upset in the final Copper Top Futurity trial

Probably the coolest parts of the Sunland experience was the opportunity to call a couple races. My host for the weekend was announcer Robert Geller, and he got permission to let me call a Quarter Horse race on Friday and a Thoroughbred race on Saturday. It was very exciting (althouh nerve-wracking) because I have only got to call harness races live before, but both went very well in my opinion. I got to call Rosicky winning the second West Texas Futurity trial, and he set the fifth fastest qualifying time so I know who I'm rooting for in the final. My Thoroughbred race was a $12,500 claimer, won easily by Cattle Company.

Cross Roads Ranch
      Although I didn't get to go to any match races over the weekend (there were some going on nearby, though) I did get to make a very quick stop at the Cross Roads Ranch on Saturday night. Cross Roads is on the New Mexico side of the NM-TX border, and looks like a pretty nice facility. I was told they used to have quite a bit of match racing there but not nearly as much anymore. It would have been nice to see some horses train there, but at least I got to see the place.

Robert Geller and his namesake, Citizen Geller

The grave of Mr Vale, a local champion from the early 60's

The Sunland paddock, mountains in the background

R H Express wins the Sunland Derby day opener

Citizen Geller and Alejandro Medellin

Attendance on Sunland Derby day was posted at 16,039

Citizen Geller in a 17-1 upset

Citizen Geller heading to the winner's circle

Pink Cadillac (#6) and Ken Tohil edged out heavy favourite Sippin in the New Mexico Breeders' Oaks

Woodacouldadid (#4) pulled off a 34-1 shocker in the La Coneja Stakes under Elvin Gonzalez

Defending champion Redneck Humor and Miguel Perez win the Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes

Mt Cristo Rey is a nice backdrop to the paddock

Ken Tohil

Javier Castellano

Go For a Stroll (#9) and Tracey Hebert got up for a neck victory in the New Mexico Breeders' Derby over Storming Back

Ghalia entering the paddock before the Sunland Park Oaks

No rider no problems

Jose Ortiz looking like he wants to punch somebody

Nice flags

Ghalia (#3) is a perfect 3-for-3 after winning the Sunland Park Oaks

Ghalia post-race, Jose Ortiz still looking like he's about to get in a fight

K P Wildcat snuck up the rail to win the Harry Henson Handicap under Roimes Chirinos

Local favourite Conquest Mo Money in the paddock for the Sunland Derby

Hence in the paddock. The groom has better hair than Steve Asmussen. #sorrynotsorry

#saddleclothsunday for the future

Conquest Mo Money in the early yards

Hence rallied from 10 lengths back to win under local jockey Alfredo Juarez, Jr

Alfredo Juarez, Jr

Hence in the winner's circle
The Sunland Derby was a pretty cool event. The crowd was very big, the racing was great and the mix of local horses and top-level invaders is always interesting when smaller tracks like Sunland put on these big days. One of the coolest parts of the day was seeing Citizen Geller win the second race. Robert introduced me to his owners, Larry and Denise, and they took us to the backstretch to meet the horse on Friday morning. After he won on Sunday they let me get in their win picture too, which will never not be fun.

      I really wasn't sure what to expect with Sunland in terms of the track itself, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The grandstand and clubhouse were very nice, the mountain backdrop was very pretty, the paddock wasn't the biggest but it provides fans with a good look at the horses, and the people were almost overwhelmingly friendly. Everyone I met, whether they be track employees or fans were extremely nice to me, which is always great when you're in a new place. I have to thank Robert Geller, Dustin Dix, Larry & Denise Nichols and everyone else who helped make the trip such a great experience. If you're looking for a winter track to visit and want something a little outside the norm, I would definitely recommend Sunland Park.