July 13, 2024

Henry Q braces for California challengers in Sunland Park Derby

Henry Q wins the 2023 Mine That Bird Derby (Coady Photography)

Trainer Todd Fincher will wield a capable home team against challengers from Southern California on Sunday in both the $600,000 Sunland Park Derby (G3) and $300,000 Sunland Park Oaks. The 1 1/8-mile Derby and 1 1/16-mile Oaks will offer qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), respectively.

The Fincher-trained Henry Q, a California expat himself, enters the Sunland Park Derby off a 14 3/4-length score in the Mine That Derby. Despite having only just broken his maiden in a restricted optional claiming event at Santa Anita for previous trainer Doug O’Neill, Henry Q justified the 4-5 favoritism with a commanding performance.

Henry Q and the Riley Allison Derby one-two One in Vermillion and How Did He Do That will have their hands full against the ship-ins. Hard to Figure was beaten a neck by stablemate Newgate in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) in early February and might go favored for trainer Bob Baffert. Fort Bragg, formerly with Baffert but now with Tim Yakteen, was most recently fifth of nine in the San Felipe (G2), while Low Expectations enters off back-to-back wins at Santa Anita, albeit against maiden claiming and starter allowance rivals.

Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 50-20-15-10-5 are on offer for the respective top five finishers, though only three of the Sunland Park Derby entrants are currently eligible to accrue any on Sunday. Hard to Figure is ineligible due to Baffert’s current suspension from racing at Churchill Downs, while Henry Q, How Did He Do That, and Wild On Ice are not currently nominated to the Triple Crown.

The Fincher-trained Flying Connection was also a dominant winner of her prep leading into the Sunland Park Oaks, taking last month’s Island Fashion S. by more than nine lengths as the 3-10 favorite. The speedy filly will break from post 1 in the field of seven.

Her main rival for the win, though not for Oaks points, is the Baffert-trained Doinitthehardway, who earned a belated maiden win on March 3 by nine lengths going a mile at Santa Anita. Other Sunland Park Oaks entries include Love Tank and Cairo Moon, second and third, respectively, in the Island Fashion, and Arizona Oaks heroine Una Palabra.

Kentucky Oaks qualifying points of 50-20-15-10-5 will be distributed to all eligible fillies that respectively finish in the top five.