This week, love is in the air.
Oh sure, Valentine's Day is soon and that holiday's obvious connotations. But it's also a weekend with two Kentucky Derby prep races and a chance to fall in love with a horse you can root for the in the Derby. Whether you plunked down cash in the futures, will make a pilgrimage to Las Vegas, or just want a clever rooting interest, this is the season to start scouring the land and the sophomore preps.
The two preps this weekend are the G3 El Camino Real Derby from Golden Gate Fields on Valentine's Day and the G3 Southwest Stakes scheduled for Presidents' Day. Picks & Ponderings teammmate Nicolle Neulist previewed the G3 Southwest From Oaklawn Park. The other prep is previewed here, the G3 El Camino Real Derby from Golden Gate Fields.
With two hundred thousand dollars and a 10-4-2-1 point parsing on the line, the Grade Three El Camino Real Derby is a full-fledged Kentucky Derby prep. As we're at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, the El Camino Real Derby goes on their all-weather Tapeta surface. The top-shelf prep of Northern California is one of the premier races of the NorCal region. The El Camino Real Derby began its life in 1982 on the dirt at turned-to-housing Bay Meadows and was shifted to the all-weather in 2009, where it's been ever since. That same year the race permanently moved to Golden Gate, as both NorCal tracks of Golden Gate and Bay Meadows traded the race in the 2000s. Contested at a mile and a sixteenth from inception until 2008, it stretched out to its current distance in 2009.
Although the El Camino Real Derby has never yielded a Kentucky Derby winner, it has produced three winners of the Preakness in Tank's Prospect (1985), Snow Chief (1986), and Tabasco Cat (1994). Also among notable winners is Cavonnier (1996), a stakes namesake on the summertime Northern California fair circuit and Cause To Believe (2006), who in his final Derby prep was third in the Illinois Derby. Though not a winner, 2003 Illinois Derby winner and Travers winner Ten Most Wanted was third in that year's El Camino Real Derby.
Ocean Terrace winning the 2003 El Camino Real Derby; Ten Most Wanted was third. Video courtesy Youtube.
Updated February 12th with corrections.
Golden Gate Fields -- Race 7 -- G3 El Camino Real Derby -- 1 1/8 miles on Tapeta -- post time 3:45 PT
There are certainties in life: the sun rises in the East, ice cream is cold, and Jerry Hollendorfer wins races in Northern California. Of course, Hollendorfer now plays at the varsity level thanks to horses like G2 San Antonio winner Shared Belief, but Hollendorfer still dominates the junior varsity group in Northern California. He puts three in the gate for the El Camino Real Derby, and STAND AND SALUTE gets the nod. STAND AND SALUTE has Russell Baze riding, and him winning on the NorCal circuit is much a certainty as water being wet. Baze/Hollendorfer have an iron-clad grip on their respective human titles; they hit at about 30% wins for the the Golden Gate meet. Winner two back of the Gold Rush over a mile at two, he was third in the local prep to this race behind CROSS THE LINE; the victor getting a more advantageous run in the two path as opposed to this one's in the four path. While similar in many ways to CROSS THE LINE, STAND AND SALUTE showed a passing gear when getting career win number one in a washed-off event at two going a route of ground, and that ability, while CROSS THE LINE has looked better closer to the lead, is the trump card. CROSS THE LINE has the same likable qualities, given he too is a Hollendorfer trainee. His rider, Juan Hernandez, boots his fair share home on this circuit. But when working with Hollendorfer, that's an infrequent combination with only five team ups, two wins, and two additional podium finishes in the last two months. CROSS THE LINE won the local prep last out, but he did it from a stalking position in the two path. CROSS THE LINE has done better when controlling the terms or being near the pace. Without a true blue front runner he could get that forward trip, but his need for it could be his undoing. This graded event is a referendum on Casse trainee CONQUEST TYPHOON. Winner at two of the G2 Summer Stakes on turf last fall and second in the G3 Grey on Woodbine's poly, he's unseen since winning the G3 DeMille during the Hollywood Turf Festival that relocated to Del Mar. At two before winning the DeMille he ran a credible fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and was second to G3 Lecomte winner International Star in the Grey as well. The time away since Thanksgiving weekend could be beneficial, but how he's matured and grown will dictate his wagering, as well as provide clues to the referendum. Mike Smith takes off mounts down south to ride.
#8 STAND AND SALUTE (6/1)
#5 CROSS THE LINE (5/1)
#9 CONQUEST TYPHOON (7/2)
Longshot: The above space was a love-fest for Hollendorfer complete with paper valentines. However #3 METABOSS (8/1) has capable humans in Alex Solis and Jeff Bonde for a rider and trainer. His worst start came on the Breeders' Cup Saturday undercard in a washed-off minor stakes on the dirt, and his two-turn and grass races have seen him hit the board each time. Polytrack is an unknown as this son of Street Boss tries the poly for the first time. But that Street Boss-Street Cry sire line shows he might have the lineage to handle it, and it's not the dirt (obviously) that flummoxed him in November. Winner last time on the Santa Anita weeds at today's distance of nine furlongs, he ships north after tangling with Ocho Ocho Ocho and buzz horse Bolo downstate at Santa Anita earlier in his career. Neither of those made the trip up, and METABOSS also brings in a sharp work before making the trip up. With the Casse horse and the three Hollendorfers, a square price should be here for a horse that isn't a huge stretch, but certainly won't be the favorite.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.