Sky Defence eyes Winsham Lad repeat
The march to the Sunland Park Handicap starts Sunday.
The $65,000 Winsham Lad Handicap is the first step on the road to that race and has brought together some of the best older horses on the grounds at Sunland, including American Dubai, Deputy’s Echo, and Sky Defence.
The Winsham Lad, which is for 4-year-olds and up at a mile, is the first of two local preps for the $150,000 Sunland Park Handicap on May 4. The second race in the track’s series for older horses is the $75,000 Curribot Handicap on Feb. 24.
Sky Defence won last year’s Winsham Lad and Curribot before finishing sixth in the Sunland Park Handicap. He last raced in December and won an allowance over a handful of rivals he will face Sunday. Sky Defence set the pace in the Dec. 19 race at Zia Park and was a length winner. Ken Tohill, who was aboard, has the mount again for Richard Lueck and trainer Susan Arnett.
American Dubai, who won the Sunland Park Handicap in 2017, exits the same allowance as Sky Defence, finishing fifth. The out was American Dubai’s first since September 2017. He was with the pace for much of the allowance and was beaten 4 1/2 lengths in a productive comeback. Since the start, American Dubai has worked a bullet five-eighths in 1:00.40 at Sunland – where he is 4 for 5. Ry Eikleberry has the mount for trainer Rodney Richards.
Deputy’s Echo is the 122-pound highweight for the Winsham Lad off a close thirdplace finish in the $150,000 Zia Park Distance Championship on Nov. 21. Last year, he was fourth in the Sunland Park Handicap.
Trainer Justin Evans, who going into Friday was 10 wins from a milestone of 2,000 Thoroughbred victories in North America, will counter with three starters. Raagheb will break from the rail after running third in the December allowance won by Sky Defence. Percy Fawcett, who was fourth in the same allowance, breaks from post 2. Grade 3 winner Classy Class will be moving back to two turns when he starts from post 4.
The field of seven for Sunday also includes Izzy the Warrior, a multiple stakes winner invading from Turf Paradise.
Jessies First Down gets break
Jessies First Down, the twotime world champion Quarter Horse who won four Grade 1 races in his four starts in 2018, is being freshened at his Sunland Park base with plans for the 8-year-old gelding’s future to be determined, trainer Jimmy Padgett said Thursday.
Jessies First Down closed his season last month with a win in the $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park. He has now won 19 of 38 starts and earned $1.6 million.
“We’re going to give him a little break and evaluate where he’s at and how he’s doing and decide if he’s going to run again,” said Padgett, who trains the horse for breeder and owner Ted Abrams. “We’ll decide in about a month or so.”
Jessies First Down will be looking to win a different kind of race Thursday, when the American Quarter Horse Association announces its champions. He will be seeking his third straight world champion title. Jessies First Down has proven to be one of the sport’s all-time greats at the classic distance of 440 yards, winning 13 stakes at the distance – nine of them Grade 1 events – and 19 races overall at the trip. He is by Fdd Dynasty and was bred in Texas.