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The final preparations are underway for Sunday’s Sunland Derby. On Saturday, the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino hosted its annual fundraiser for United Blood Services.
"It's very important to us,” said LuAnn Wieland, a spokesperson for the UBS. “It brings us awareness. We only have one major fundraiser a year."
More than 500 people attended the sold out 12th Annual Sunland Park Gala.
The keynote speaker, Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders, said he is grateful to have been asked to be part of Saturday’s event.
"Looking over the program, there have been several people here that I look up to and adore,” Sanders said. “It's just an honor to be invited. I'm just glad that I could help."
Also joining the event was the cast and crew of the movie 50 to 1.
The film is based on the story of Mine That Bird, who raced in the Sunland Derby and went on to win the Kentucky Derby in 2009 at 50 to 1 odds.
Jim Wilson produced, directed, and wrote the movie. He said being here for the Sunland Derby is like a homecoming for him. He recalled being inspired by Mine That Bird when he saw the race live.
"I saw this little race horse come from 20 lanes back and put the whip on the big boys in Kentucky,” Wilson explained. “I said this is one of the most stunning movies I have seen in my life. I said I think there is a story here.”
As for Christian Kane, who plays Mark Allen, the owner of Mine That Bird, it's great to meet the people who actually lived the story he helps to tell.
"We are honored to be here,” Kane said. “This is the real deal. This isn't Hollywood. This is an actual horse race. This is the Sunland Derby. We are honored."
The event hopes to raise more than $50,000. Some of the proceeds are given back to high schools and colleges in El Paso and southern New Mexico.
"Our high schools provide a big amount of blood for the United Blood Services,” said Wieland. “This is our way of giving back."
Be sure to watch News Channel9 at 5:30 on Sunday as we will be live from the Sunland Derby.
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