Collected takes top prize in Festival of Racing

Steve Bortstein
For The Daily Times

SUNLAND PARK — Trainer Bob Baffert does indeed live a very charmed life.

Jockey Martin Garcia and Collected open up on the competition before crossing the wire first in Sunday's $415,000 Festival of Racing Stakes at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in Sunland Park.

Just 24 hours after sending out Cupid to an impressive stakes win at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, the Triple Crown-winning trainer won another top prize for three-year-olds. Under Martin Garcia, Collected won the $415,000 Festival of Racing Stakes at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.

In picture perfect, wire-to-wire fashion, Collected repelled the challenge around the far turn of Gettysburg and jockey Javier Castellano, maintaining his lead entering the lane, and inching clear late for a 2-length victory, his third from five career starts.

Collected, a son of Pioneerof The Nile, ran the one 1/8 miles in a final time of one minute, 48.9 seconds.

The Festival of Racing Stakes, a substitute for the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, doesn’t count for points leading to a potential spot in the starting gate for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. An outbreak of a backstretch virus shut down the facility for nearly a month earlier this year, quarantining the barn area and restricting horses from leaving or entering the facility.

The Sunland Derby, which was won last year by Firing Line, was a springboard towards his eventual second-place finish under Churchill Downs' famed Twin Spires.

Nonetheless, Collected represents the fourth win for Baffert in Sunland Park’s richest thoroughbred race. He won the Sunland Derby in 2014 with Chitu, and before that in 2013 with Govenor Charlie. He also won in 2006 with Wanna Runner.

Collected is another highly regarded prospect from the Baffert barn, and he'll look to win the Kentucky Derby for the second consecutive year. Last year, Baffert swept the Triple Crown with American Pharoah, ending the 37-year drought of thoroughbred racing’s most elusive and sought after prize.

Collected, along with Cupid, join the ranks of Mor Spirit and Malibu Sunset as perhaps Baffert’s best hopes of getting into the starting gate for the Run for the Roses.

Collected will likely need another prep race in the coming weeks to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. His connections might also decide to skip the Derby and search for spots around the country, of which there will be plenty later this spring and summer.

This is the second stakes win for Collected. He won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park in January before finishing fourth as the favorite in last month’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Sent off as the near even-money favorite in the Festival of Racing Stakes, Collected returned $4.20 to his winning backers, while earning the connections over $207,000 in the process.

Owned by Speedway Stables, Collected has now amassed well over $343,000 in his career.

Gettysburg, trained by Todd Pletcher, was well clear of Concord Fast in finishing second. Behind those top three were Deputy’s Echo, followed by Dad, Bruntino, Ice Box Tango, Cowboy Cool, Crown of Ambition, Found Money and Walk Out.

Music Giant was scratched earlier in the day.

Thrilled wins Plum Pretty Stakes

The recipient of a perfectly timed ride from Castellano, Thrilled wore down her main rival Family Tree inside the final furlong, coming away with an impressive 2-length score in the $200,000 Plum Pretty Stakes.

Thrilled, making her first start this year for Pletcher and being ridden by Castellano for the first time in her six-race career, tracked the early pace set by Family Tree and Garcia as she raced alone on the lead through an opening half mile in 47.72.

Thrilled began to chew into that lonely lead midway around the far turn, drawing up alongside her main rivals as they came into the stretch. Racing just to the outside of Family Tree, Castellano and Thrilled inched clear in the final yards. They drew away late to win comfortably, stopping the clock in 1:43.35  for the one-and-one sixteenth mile affair.

Bred in Kentucky, Thrilled is owned by Michael Tabor and has now won twice in her career. She broke her maiden last August at Saratoga in New York in her career debut, and had been stakes placed in three of four of her most recent races last Autumn. She was in steady training at Palm Beach Downs in Florida before shipping to Sunland Park.

The daughter of Uncle Mo earned $124,000 with the win, increasing her lifetime earnings to well over $293,000. Sent off as the even-money favorite in the Plum Pretty, Thrilled returned $4 to her winning backers.

Family Tree easily held the place, with KP Wildcat, LJ’s Awesome Girl and Sweet Bea rounding out the order of finish.

Both Ready and Set as well as Where’s The D were scratched earlier in the day.

Steve Bortstein hosts "First Sports" and "The Fast Track" on Fox Sports 1340 AM and 93.9 FM and on iHeartRadio. He serves as paddock show host at SunRay Park & Casino and is a voting member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Follow him @fox1340am on Twitter.