Joe Peacock’s homebred Runaway Ghost lived up to his near 4-1 favoritism on Sunday in the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3), taking a commanding lead in the lane at Sunland Park and easily holding the rallying Dream Baby Dream by 2 3/4 lengths on the wire.
The Todd Fincher trainee was widest of all on the first turn as All Out Blitz shot to the lead out of the gate. New York Central tracked just off his flank in second down the backstretch through splits of :45.80 and 1:10.27.
Nearing the final bend, Runaway Ghost suddenly appeared on the outside . The bay son of Ghostzapper easily drew off and held a clear advantage entering the stretch, pulling away to be four lengths clear with jockey Tracy Hebert aboard. Dream Baby Dream, who had run in the rear of the field early, separated himself from the pack and chased Runaway Ghost, but couldn’t reel in the winner.
Finishing 1 1/8 miles over the fast main track in 1:49.20, Runaway Ghost paid $9.80 for this win. He also garnered 50 points toward a starting berth in the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs and debuted on the Derby Leaderboard in the seventh spot.
The Sunland Derby is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and awarded 85 total points to the respective top four finishers. Dream Baby Dream took home the runner-up’s share of 20 points for finishing six lengths in front of Peace, who earned 10 points when sticking his neck in front of Seven Trumpets on the wire.
It was another length behind the top four to Dark Vader, who was followed under the line by Choo Choo, All Out Blitz, Prince Lucky, New York Central, Hollywood Star and Fortified Effort.
Runaway Ghost was making his third start for Fincher in this spot after beginning his career with trainer Mike Machowsky. After running second by a head in his debut at Santa Anita Park last May, the bay colt broke his maiden over that track before showing up on Golden Gate Field’s synthetic Tapeta to wire his stakes debut, the Golden Nugget Stakes, by 7 1/2 lengths.
The Kentucky-bred suffered his only unplaced finish to date closing out his juvenile campaign in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). A well-beaten fifth that day, the bay colt was subsequently sent to Fincher at Sunland Park. He romped by 7 3/4 lengths in the Riley Allison Stakes to open 2018 and entered the Sunland Derby off a second in the Mine That Bird Derby over the track on February 25.
Runaway Ghost improved his scorecard to 7-4-2-0 on Sunday and has banked $563,510 lifetime. He is the first registered foal out of the multiple stakes-winning Desert God mare Rose’s Desert and counts as his fourth dam Grade 3 scorer Pert. Interestingly enough, that mare is also the third dam of Sunland Derby fifth-place finisher Dark Vader.