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Tanma Corp.'s Chitu turned back a challenge from stablemate Midnight Hawk in Sunday's Grade 3, $800,110 Sunland Derby, in a finish dominated by the two representatives of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Under a stalk-and-pounce trip engineered by Martin Garcia, the 9-5 favorite earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Derby, bringing his total up to 54.
Chitu had earned his first four points when runner-up to Candy Boy in the February 8 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, where he suffered his only loss so far in his stakes and two-turn debut. Midnight Hawk, third to Candy Boy and Chitu in the Lewis, was coming off a distant second to the streaking California Chrome in the March 8 San Felipe. Their performances at Sunland Park, against a field including Florida shippers Commissioner and Global Strike from the Todd Pletcher barn, and Oaklawn invaders Tanzanite Cat and Bourbonize, flattered their recent conquerors.
In the early going, recent Santa Anita maiden winner Garen went to the front and reeled off splits of :23 1/5 and :46 2/5. Chitu kept close tabs on the leader, while Midnight Hawk was nearby in third. The Baffert pair ranged alongside Garen, and the trio raced heads apart at the six-furlong mark in 1:09 3/5. Once headed by Midnight Hawk and Chitu, Garen soon beat a retreat on the far turn.
Midnight Hawk was briefly in front, until Chitu then grabbed a slim lead entering the stretch. Midnight Hawk was still glued to his flank, however, and continued to offer his challenge. Yet Chitu, who reached the mile in 1:34 2/5, kept finding more to hold him off, and Midnight Hawk's bid ultimately stalled. Chitu pulled 2 1/4 lengths clear and negotiated 1 1/8 miles on the fast track in 1:47.88, not far off the track record of 1:47.54 set by the Baffert-trained Govenor Charlie in last year's Sunland Derby.
Commissioner, who lagged in last after bobbling at the break, hit his best stride late for third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Midnight Hawk. Next came the locally-based Rebranded, Bourbonize, Global Strike, Garen, Tanzanite Cat and Lawly's Goal.
Chitu boosted his bankroll to $501,800 from his 4-3-1-0 record. The son of Henny Hughes opened his career with back-to-back wins in six-furlong sprints, wiring a December 7 maiden at Hollywood and recovering from a bobble at the start in an entry-level allowance at Santa Anita December 27. The strongly-made chestnut stretched out to 1 1/16 miles in the Lewis and performed admirably. After arguing the pace and striking the front in the stretch, Chitu could not resist the relentless late run of Candy Boy, but was beaten only a half-length. In the process, he finished a clear second by 1 1/4 lengths from Midnight Hawk. That margin was increased at Sunland.
Bred by Tom Evans, Macon Wilmil Equines and Marjac Farms in Kentucky, Chitu initially sold for $67,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September. He went to his current connections for $300,000 as an OBS March two-year-old in training. Chitu is out of the winning A.P. Indy mare Sea Gift, herself a half-sister to Group 3-placed Bicoastal. The colt's second dam is Grade 3 heroine Ocean Queen, who set a course record of 1:47 4/5 when beating the boys in the 1996 Bay Meadows Derby over 1 1/8 miles on turf.
This is the family of Grade 2 winner Dance Parade, dam of last year's St Leger hero Leading Light; German highweight Toylsome; and Australian Group 1 victors Always Aloof and Bel Sprinter.