With the demise of synthetic tracks over the last few years, options for amassing Kentucky Derby points over anything but dirt have become few and far between. One of those rare remaining opportunities comes this Saturday over the Tapeta at Golden Gate fields, in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.
The Derby trail does return to conventional dirt a few days later, and Picks and Ponderings will also be there. In a separate piece, we preview Monday's pair of graded stakes races at Oaklawn Park. Derby-bound sophomores get another chance for points in the Southwest Stakes (G3), and the older dirt route division gets the spotlight in the Razorback Handicap (G3).
The El Camino Real Derby, named after the so-called "Royal Road" that connects the Spanish missions from the San Francisco Bay south to San Diego, began its life in 1982. It was run at the late Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo from 1982 through 2000, and again from 2005-2008. Golden Gate Fields hosted the race from 2001-2004, and again from 2009 through the present day. The race was run at 1 1/16 miles for most of its history, but stretched out to its current 1 1/8 mile distance in 2009. The race has held a Grade 3 designation since 1986.
The El Camino Real Derby has not yet produced a Kentucky Derby winner, but three of its victors have gone on to take the Preakness: Tank's Prospect (1985), Snow Chief (1986), and Tabasco Cat (1994). On a more local bent, Cause to Believe (2006) shipped to Hawthorne later in the spring to finish a distant third behind Sweetnorthernsaint in the Illinois Derby. Ten Most Wanted, third behind Ocean Terrace in the 2003 El Camino Real Derby, had a better time in his visits to Hawthorne. He won the Illinois Derby in his next start, and would also win the 2004 National Jockey Club Handicap (G3) at 35th and Cicero in his final career start.
Watch the El Camino Real Derby, and every race at Golden Gate Fields, on the racetrack website.
Saturday, February 18: Golden Gate Fields
Race 7: El Camino Real Derby, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the Tapeta, post time 3:45pm PST
Seven horses entered this year's El Camino Real Derby. The spoils include a share of a $200,000 purse, as well as Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers.
Two horses stand to get most of the attention here: SHEER FLATTERY and ANN ARBOR EDDIE. ANN ARBOR EDDIE looks like a stand-against at a short price. He has never run on the Tapeta, and his pedigree suggests that the stretch to nine furlongs will not do him many favours. He has won his last two races, but both were against Cal-breds. He beat California Diamond in each of those races -- and though California Diamond is a good horse, he is a one-turn horse. Here, ANN ARBOR EDDIE has to face open company, including some horses who actually want two turns, and that may be too much for him to take at a shorter price.
SHEER FLATTERY, however, makes a lot of sense. He is the likely favourite, but he has a lot to like. On speed, SHEER FLATTERY is a standout. On class, though he only has a maiden win to his name, he was third behind Royal Mo in the Robert B. Lewis (G3). He just missed catching Irap for second. Of course, he was no match for Royal Mo -- but in this field, he won't have to be. On pace, SHEER FLATTERY has a style that should work well in this race. It's a seven-horse field with a decent amount of speed; SHEER FLATTERY should be able to stalk just off the pace, and make a run from that good, tactical spot. The course and distance are questions, as he has never run on Tapeta nor has he gone a mile and an eighth. But, he is by Flatter out of a mare with a bit of two-turn form, and his class and speed look likely to carry him home against this set.
MORE POWER TO HIM hopes that TRIBAL STORM and KONA DREAMS (and maybe even ANN ARBOR EDDIE) get a hot pace going. This will be a step forward in class for him, but his late pace is consistently strong given his foes. Tapeta is not a question, as all six of MORE POWER TO HIM's starts have come over the Golden Gate main. And, he has taken (and sustained) a step forward once he stretched out from one turn to two. He also keeps regular rider Alejandro Gomez aboard; Gomez has been aboard for his last four starts. This is a step forward for MORE POWER TO HIM, who was second in the listed California Derby last out, but he should make good account of himself over his home course.
KONA DREAMS, the lone maiden in the field of seven, looks the speed of the speed. He stretches back out to two turns after a try down the hill at Santa Anita, and tries Tapeta for the first time here. Though TRIBAL STORM and ANN ARBOR EDDIE have both shown some speed, neither has always shown speed, opening up a chance that KONA DREAMS leads the field a long way. His last two starts have not been very good -- but his better starts came with blinkers, and he puts the blinkers back on today. Finally, trainer George Papapodromou has been shrewd with his Golden Gate shippers this winter -- both of them have won so far -- and he has a +$3.21 ROI with his shippers more generally.
#5 SHEER FLATTERY (7/5)
#2 MORE POWER TO HIM (6/1)
#7 KONA DREAMS (8/1)
Longshot: #6 COLONEL SAMSEN (10/1) has done some of his best work at Golden Gate. He has run twice on the Tapeta, and has a stakes win and a stakes placing to show for it. Toss the Sham; he faced far better there, and may not have liked the sloppy going. The breeding suggests that more distance should help him along; compared to anyone else in the field, the stretch to a mile and an eighth should benefit him more than anyone else in the field. Given his running style, he would like to see TRIBAL STORM, KONA DREAMS, and perhaps even ANN ARBOR EDDIE make things feisty on the front. But, if they do, and COLONEL SAMSEN runs back to his last out, he can get a piece of this at a good price.
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