Arnold Zetcher's Firing Line threw his hat emphatically into the ring of Triple Crown contenders with a dominating victory in the $800,000 Sunland Derby March 22 at Sunland Park.
The Line of David colt, a head second to Dortmund in both the Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 20 and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 7, claimed his first stakes win in the easiest possible way, blowing away a group of six other overmatched colts by 14-1/2 lengths under a hand ride by jockey Gary Stevens.
Covering the 1-1/8 miles in 1:47.39, Firing Line picked up 50 points in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" standings with the victory for trainer Simon Callaghan. Where's the Moon was a distant second and Pain and Misery finished 2-1/4 lengths back in third.
The colt cruised a head behind early leader Why Two in the first turn and through much of the backstretch, before taking command and pulling away steadily through the second turn and in the stretch. He covered six furlongs in 1:09.12 after Why Two ran the first quarter-mile in :22.33 seconds and half in :45.39 seconds.
"He really ran the race he hoped he would," Callaghan said. "It was a fast break [compared to] his last race. Setting those fractions inside on the rail, you can't ask more than that."
What may have been most impressive was how Firing Line handled the rail trip, essentially trapped on the inside with Why Two to his right. The 3-year-old relaxed and accelerated when Stevens asked.
"It wasn't an ideal trip," Stevens said. "It looked a lot easier than it was. I didn't like it when we drew the [inside post], and the race was loaded with other pace, but this colt -- he probably handled things a lot better than I did. He makes easy work of it and the best thing he's got going for him is his mind. He's way beyond his [five-race] career right now, as far as where he is mentally.
"He was battled-tested in his last race against Dortmund, so it was nice to get an easy one today."
"I was watching the race, and being inside the whole way, I was nervous," Callaghan said, expanding on the inside trip. "But when you're really good, you can overcome when things go against you. That's what exceptional horses do."
Firing Line returned $2.40, $2.10, and $2.10 across the board. Where's the Moon, who entered the race coming off a victory in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Feb. 21, delivered $4.40 and $3. Pain and Misery paid $4.80 to show.
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms out of Hold for Gold mare Sister Girl Blues, Firing Line more than tripled his earnings, now at $574,800, with the victory. His record stands at 2-3-0 from five starts.
Tiznow R J finished fourth, followed by Dirt Monster, Why Two, and Malibu Mogul, to complete the order of finish. Lord Nelson was scratched.