By Meredith Daugherty
Starlight Racing's Cutting Humor put himself on the map March 24 with a record-setting win over favorite Mucho Gusto in the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby (G3) at Sunland Park.
With only six weeks left until the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), Sunland Park's only prep race for 3-year-olds looking to compete in the first leg of the classics started out predictably enough.
Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto broke well from his spot on the rail and established an early lead. The heavy favorite—and last-out winner of the Feb. 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park—looked comfortably in command, setting a relatively fast pace for the 1 1/8-mile test.
The first quarter went in :22.76 with Mucho Gusto still holding his advantage over Hustle Up to his outside. Behind them, Anothertwistafate pressed the pace next to the rail with Cutting Humor just behind in fourth to his outside.
Mucho Gusto was still the one to beat as the field passed the half-mile point in :45.63 and then six furlongs in 1:09.63. Guided by jockey John Velazquez, Cutting Humor made his move along the backstretch and was hustled three wide as they got up to challenge the leader and Anothertwistafate faded back between the dueling pair.
As the mile went in 1:34.76, Mucho Gusto had nothing left in reserve, and Cutting Humor forged a half-length lead in midstretch.
Just when the race looked to be won, Anothertwistafate found his second wind and stormed home down the middle of the stretch in an attempt to run down Cutting Humor. Not to be denied, Cutting Humor battled on and prevailed by a neck at the wire.
"Once I got to the quarter pole, I thought he was going pretty easy," Velazquez said. "Then I asked him, and as soon as he found himself on the lead, he started waiting. He idled pretty badly, and I'm thinking, 'Come on buddy. You've got to get your mind back on running.'
"I waited until the eighth pole, switched to left-handed, and he responded."
The final time of 1:46.94 is a track record for the distance.
Mucho Gusto held for third, almost six lengths behind the winner. Wicked Indeed took fourth, followed by Eye Cloud, Pasamonte Man, Hustle Up, Collusionist, and Walker Stalker to complete the order of finish. Anothertwistafate earned 20 points, Mucho Gusto 10, and Wicked Indeed five points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Cutting Humor, who had not won since breaking his maiden in November at Gulfstream Park West, is now firmly on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The son of First Samurai picked up 50 points and now sits in fifth place on the leaderboard. He improved his record to 2-2-1 from six starts, with earnings of $516,967.
Bred in Kentucky by Dell Hancock and Bernie Sams, Cutting Humor is the fifth foal out of the Pulpit mare Pun and is a half brother to stakes winner Irish You Well. He was purchased for $400,000 in 2017 by Starlight from the consignment of Taylor Made Sales Agency to The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton's selected yearling sale in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
One race earlier on the card, Kaleem Shah's homebred All Out Blitz earned his first black-type win in the Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes. He now has a 4-2-2 record from 14 starts and $251,030 in earnings.