The Road to the Kentucky Derby took an unexpected twist in Sunday’s $600,000 Sunland Park Derby (G3) at Sunland Park. The 1 1/8-mile contest ended in a tremendous upset as Wild On Ice, the longest shot in the field at 35-1, edged clear of 21-1 shot Low Expectations to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
The Sunland Park Derby drew only six starters, with Hard to Figure favored at 1-2 off a runner-up effort in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita. But after dueling with local runner Henry Q through half a mile in :45.96 and six furlongs in 1:10.64, Hard to Figure gave way to finish last.
In the meantime, Wild On Ice—eyeing the pace battle from third place—was perfectly positioned to take advantage under jockey Ken Tohill. Henry Q was also growing leg-weary, so Wild On Ice rallied to the front while closely pursued by Low Expectations. The two were separated by half a length at the furlong marker, but Wild On Ice forged away late to take top honors in 1:51.39.
Henry Q held for third place, followed by How Did He Do That, One in Vermillion, and Hard to Figure.
The Sunland Park Derby outcome marked a dramatic turnaround around for Wild On Ice, who finished 20 3/4 lengths behind Henry Q when third in the Feb. 28 Mine That Bird Derby racing 1 1/16 miles at Sunland.
Now the connections of Wild On Ice have an important decision to make. The Sunland Park Derby awarded Kentucky Derby (G1) qualification points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis to its top five finishers, but Wild On Ice isn’t an early nominee to the Triple Crown. Should trainer Joel Marr and owner/breeder Frank Sumpter choose to pursue a Kentucky Derby start, they’ll want to make the gelded son of Tapizar a late nominee (at a cost of $6,000) before the March 27 second deadline.
Earlier in the afternoon at Sunland, three-year-old fillies squared off in the $300,000 Sunland Park Oaks, a Road to the Kentucky Oaks qualifier worth 50-20-15-10-5 points to the top five finishers.
The 7-10 favorite was last-out maiden winner Doinitthehardway, a filly ineligible to earn points since she’s trained by Bob Baffert, who is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. But Doinitthehardway failed to bring her A-game, fading from a pace-tracking position to finish fifth.
In the meantime, 13-10 second choice Flying Connection led all the way to earn the 50 first-prize points. Setting quick fractions of :22.89, :46.09 and 1:11.14 might have tired some fillies, but Flying Connection had enough left in the homestretch to hold off deep closers Love Tank and Don’t Get Pickled by 2 1/4 lengths, completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.90.
Una Palabra finished fourth, while Doinitthehardway, Cairo Moon, and Foolish Delight trailed the field.
A daughter of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Flying Connection is trained by Todd Fincher on behalf of owners Brad King, Randy Andrews, G. Chris Coleman, Jim Cone, Suzanne Kirby, and Lee Lewis. Alfredo Juarez Jr. rode Flying Connection, who has vaulted from unranked to sixth place on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.