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 three 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 three preps this weekend are the G3 El Camino Real Derby from Golden Gate Fields, the G3 Sam F. Davis from Tampa bay Downs, and the G3 Southwest Stakes from Oaklawn scheduled for Presidents’ Day. Paul Mazur will tackle the Southwest Stakes in its own piece. Meanwhile, Nicolle Neulist picks and ponders the G3 Davis from Tampa Bay, as well as all three other stakes on the card. It also includes a focus piece from Nicolle Neulist on the locals in action on Saturday at Tampa Bay.
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 – that year’s Illinois Derby winner – was third. Video courtesy Youtube.
Morning line odds for this race, scheduled for Saturday February 13th, were not available at original publish time. Updated on February 11 to include morning lines.
Golden Gate Fields — Race 7 — G3 El Camino Real Derby — One and one-eighth miles on Tapeta — post time 3:45 PT
SAN DIMAS serves as the setting for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. SAN DIMAS also serves as the pick in the G3 El Camino Real Derby. Sure, there are common elements beyond the name: handicapping does require the element of time travel that served as the crux of the Keanu Reeves film, and SAN DIMAS is functional to this piece. But Rufus didn’t step out of the phone booth to impart this selection to Picks & Ponderings. The Eoin Harty trainee may have only one win in the career, but this renewal of NorCal’s Derby prep isn’t that far away from a first-level allowance. Ricardo Gonzalez will have the mount on this runner that graduated last time and in both his two turn starts over the local synthetic, has come from off the pace – the last time to get the diploma. In a field with forward types, passing impaired types (looking at you, 2/1 morning line favorite FRANK CONVERSATION), and stretchouts comes a runner that can pass and will get pace targets – the full field almost necessitates as well as young horses doing strange new things. SAN DIMAS is by Hard Spun out of a Pleasantly Perfect, meaning there is excellent (okay, play your air guitar) two-turn form and nine furlongs should be within reach. SAN DIMAS likely won’t be the favorite on the tote – that will go to Southern California shipper FRANK CONVERSATION (the horse pegged originally for this spot, MR. COKER, scratched on the day of the race). While SAN DIMAS is a runner that benefits from a pace meltdown, another that does is MARQULA. Four of six in the money lifetime, he’s cashed place and show checks in the local feeders to this El Camino Real. They’ve also had short fields too, meaning that a runner like him that might be pace dependent hasn’t gotten enough front end gas to light his closing engine. A full field of fourteen might make him need a trip. But as the local horse-for-the-course who gets the pace targets he’s yearned for, he could do better than expected. He’s been the two turn trip at Golden Gate before – something many others in this field have not. One thing that’s been bogus this year is the record of trainer H. Graham Motion. TUSK (sorry, no Fleetwood Mac references here) is the “B” motion runner in this full field. Brought to you by Flaxman Holdings – who when with Motion campaigned Main Sequence – he won his maiden three back on the lawn at Del Mar n the fall before being hoisted up in class in the G3 DeMille during the Hollywood Turf Festival. The graded race over Turkey Day weekend was a bridge too far, and he returned to be an even third in a first level allowance at Santa Anita on the lawn. He tries synthetic for the first time, and maybe that can jumpstart his form. Being competitive in an N1X actually makes him plausible in this field. Plus he’ll have the riding sevices of Juan Hernandez, who’s settled nicely into the “best rider not named Russell Baze” role at Golden Gate.
#6 SAN DIMAS (20/1)
#7 MARQULA (8/1)
#8 TUSK (15/1)
Longshot:With the above space pegging SAN DIMAS at 20/1, the longshot writer will just take the Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat!) offered as a consolation prize.
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