Sunland Derby grows in stature with grading ©

by Ray Sanchez




The designation of Grade III to the Sunland Derby means a major gain in national stature not only for Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino but for horse racing in the Southwest in general. Itís good news for El Paso and area businesses, too.  The announcement of the grading was made Thursday by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association in Lexington, Kentucky.


Comparing the grading to college football, an elated Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino general manager Harold Payne said, ďThis lifts us from mid-major status to the BCS (the Bowl College Series which includes the best college football teams in the nation).Ē


Since the Sunland Derby is now graded it will draw better horses. Entries into the Kentucky Derby are selected solely by the amount of money they earn in graded races. Sunland could not get those better horses before because the Sunland Derby didnít meet that qualification.

Now it does and the fact the Sunland Derby now carries a purse of $800,000 will be an added incentive.  All of which means more attention, better horses, more betting on the race, more visitors to the El Paso area, more business for hotels, restaurants and shops.


The American Graded Stakes committee reviewed 723 unrestricted U.S. stakes races worth at least $75,000, and assigned graded status to 487 of them, two less than in 2009. The Sunland Derby was one of six upgraded to a Grade III for 2010.


The fact Mine That Bird ran in last yearís Sunland Derby and finished fourth then went on to win the Kentucky Derby was a major factor in the Sunland Derby upgrading and Sunland officials will express their gratitude by honoring Mine That Bird throughout the coming live racing season which opens Friday, Dec. 11.  This seasonís Sunland Derby will be held March 28.