A major race on the Kentucky Derby prep trail has been cancelled, at least for this year. Sunland Park has announced they have cancelled the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby and the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks originally scheduled for March 20. Sunland will replace the cancelled races with two new stakes races for three year olds but neither will offer qualification points for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
The track said the move was necessary to protect the integrity of the two major stakes races as part of the Kentucky Derby qualification process. The track didn’t indicate if the stakes race swap was permanent but many of their comments suggested that it was just a one year move. The cancelled stakes races will be replaced with the $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes and the $200,000 Plum Pretty. The Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes will be over 1 1/8 miles for three year olds while the Plum Pretty will be contested over 1 1/16 miles for fillies. The races will be the highlight of the March 20 live racing card but will not offer any Derby or Oaks qualification points.
The move forces owners that were planning to seek qualification points for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks in the two cancelled races to make other plans. The format at these two races awarded points to the top four finishers in a 50-20-10-5 sequence. The track said that they announced the move as early as possible in hopes that it would make the necessary logistical changes easier for the horsemen.
Sunland Park has endured an extremely challenging year but at this point look to be getting things back to normal. On January 23, equine vets diagnosed a breakout of equine herpes virus at the track and live racing was immediately cancelled. That lasted for over a month, with live action resuming on February 26. The track remains under quarantine but there is optimism that it could be lifted any day now which would allow horses to ship to and from the track once again. Of the 1,600 horses stabled at Sunland only five remain in isolation due to issues related to the equine herpes outbreak.