Making his first start outside of New Mexico-bred company, Hustle Up led throughout in Sunday’s $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby to become the leading local contender for the March 24 Sunland Derby (G3). The gelded son of Abstraction also gave trainer Todd Fincher his 1,000th Thoroughbred win.
Hustle Up, already a four-time stakes winner among state-breds, lived up to his name by clearing the field early. After clocking the first quarter in :23.64, jockey Shane Laviolette had to take a fierce hold to prevent him from going too fast. Hustle Up got away with splits of :47.34 and 1:11.09, spurted away entering the stretch, and still had a length to spare over fast-finishing 4-5 favorite Wicked Indeed at the wire. The 5-2 second choice negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.31.
Wicked Indeed, most recently fourth in the Lecomte (G3), rallied boldly but too late. The Steve Asmussen blueblood is likely to appreciate at least another sixteenth. The 45-1 Walker Stalker ran evenly in third, a further three lengths back, and Pasamonte Man closed from last for fourth. Doug O’Neill’s shipper, One Flew South, didn’t factor after acting up in the gate and finished fifth. Next came Collusionist, Eye Cloud, and Thunderousapplause. Mc Awesome was pulled up leaving the backstretch and vanned off.
Also co-bred by Fincher in partnership with Brad King, Hustle Up is campaigned by Dale F. Taylor Racing, Bobby J. McQueen, and Suzanne Kirby. The dark bay has earned $363,143 from his 10-8-0-0 line, reflecting victories in last season’s Steve Prather S., Copper Top Futurity, and Mountain Top New Mexico Bred Thoroughbred Futurity along with the February 2 Red Hedeman Mile.
Hustle Up’s half-brother by Dome, On the Low Down, also won the Copper Top and Mountain Top. Their dam, the stakes-placed In Excess mare Speedin Excess, hails from the family of multiple Group 2-winning sire Daddy Long Legs and Canadian champion Bruce’s Mill.
Fincher scored two wins earlier on the card, notably the $75,000 Curribot H. with last year’s Sunland Derby hero, Runaway Ghost. The Joe Peacock homebred missed his chance at the Kentucky Derby (G1) due to injury, but returned victorious in the February 2 Ft. Bliss and made it two straight here. The 1-10 favorite stalked and pounced on pacesetter American Dubai, pulling 1 1/2 lengths clear in 1:41.41 for 1 1/16 miles. Runaway Ghost, who toted the top weight of 125 pounds with jockey Santiago Gonzalez, advance his record to 9-6-2-0, $653,510.
By Ghostzapper and out of multiple New Mexico stakes winner Rose’s Desert, Runaway Ghost is a half-brother to recent Riley Allison Derby near-misser Sheriff Brown. That Curlin gelding was arguably Fincher’s best prospect for the 2019 Sunland Derby, until he was shelved due to a shin issue, as reported by Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini. Now Hustle Up has stepped into the breach.
The Sunday program also had Sunland Park Oaks implications courtesy of the $75,000 Island Fashion S. won by Tommy Town Thoroughbreds’ Victim of Love. Trained by Henry Dominguez and ridden by Ry Eikleberry, the slight 9-5 second choice launched a sustained bid from just off the pace. Backflash, the 9-5 favorite, could not peg her back and ultimately dropped 1 3/4 lengths adrift in second.
Victim of Love covered the mile in 1:37.07 to become the third stakes winner for her dam, Grade 2 heroine Spacy Tracy. The Awesome Again mare is responsible for Grade 2 vixen Benner Island, by Speightstown and thus a full sister to Victim of Love, and Grade 3-placed multiple stakes scorer High North, by Midnight Lute. This is the further family of champion Eliza, ancestress of Grade 1-winning sire Dialed In.
Bred by Daniel J. Burke in Kentucky, Victim of Love sold for $160,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The May 27 foal didn’t begin her career until late fall, but improved markedly second time out (and first at a route) to cross the wire first at Zia Park December 11. Demoted to the runner-up spot for interference, she took another leap forward to break her maiden by 11 3/4 lengths at Sunland January 22. Victim of Love continued her progress in this stakes debut over the same track and trip, and she now sports a mark of 4-2-1-0, $63,400.