California Derby champion Zeewat will face eight rivals, including a pair of colts trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 16.
A 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds over Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface, the El Camino Real Derby is Northern California's official Kentucky Derby prep race. It is the eighth on a nine-race program. Post time for the El Camino Real Derby, which will be shown over racing networks TVG and HRTV as well as Comcast SportsNet California, is 4:40 p.m. PST. The SportsNet California broadcast will take place from 4 to 5 p.m.
The El Camino Real Derby is worth 10 points to the winner on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) point qualifying system.
The Baffert-trained Manando, a son of Bluegrass Cat purchased for $300,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale Co. last year, is the 9-5 morning line favorite. Also shipping from the Hall of Fame trainer's Southern California stable is Carving, making his first start of the year as the 3-1 third choice of the linemaker.
Zeewat, trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, will be gunning for his third straight stakes victory at Golden Gate. He is pegged at 5-2 on the morning line while breaking from post 5.
The Pennsylvania-bred Harlan's Holiday colt, owned by Hollendorfer and longtime partner George Todaro, won the one-mile Gold Rush Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths Dec. 8 and then opened his 3-year-old campaign with a half-length victory over El Camino Real Derby entrant Wildcat Moon in the California Derby Jan. 12.
Hollendorfer, who has saddled a record five El Camino Real Derby winners, will team with fellow Hall of Fame member Russell Baze, who has ridden a record eight winners of the race.
Zeewat overcame some adversity in winning the California Derby. He was cut off at the start by an inward-breaking Wildcat Moon and then was forced to race four-wide into the stretch. The California Derby was the third career stakes win for Zeewat, who captured the six-furlong Cavonnier Juvenile at Santa Rosa last summer. The bay colt tops the El Camino Real Derby field in earnings with $177,700.
Baffert will try to win the El Camino Real Derby for a second time when he sends out the multiple stakes-winning colt Carving and the promising Manando. He last won the race in 1996 with Cavonnier.
Manando is coming off a solid third-place try after setting a swift pace in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita Park Jan. 5. Kaleem Shah's speedy bay colt earned a Beyer speed figure of 91 for his effort in the one-mile Sham, the best number among the El Camino Real Derby entrants. The Sham was Manando's stakes debut following his front-running maiden-breaking win by 5 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles over Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park Dec. 13.
Jockey Aaron Gryder will ride Manando from post 4.
Carving, owned by Baffert's wife Jill and champion skier Bode Miller, won three of his five starts as a 2-year-old including the C.B. Afflerbaugh Stakes at Fairplex Park and the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park. He ran sixth in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Dec. 15, his only start since taking the 1 1/16-mile Real Quiet by a half-length over Fury Kapcori .
He'll make his 3-year-old debut in the El Camino Real Derby under jockey Victor Espinoza, who guided War Emblem to his Kentucky Derby win. They will break from post 8.
Wildcat Moon, trained by Jeff Bonde, is the only other entrant getting much attention on the morning line at odds of 6-1. The Florida-bred D'wildcat colt went straight to the lead in the California Derby once jockey Kyle Frey straightened him out and led the field into the stretch. Collared at the eighth pole by Zeewat, Wildcat Moon fought on tenaciously to the wire and was narrowly beaten.
Wildcat Moon, who was making his two-turn route debut in the Cal Derby, has finished in the money in all eight of his races, including two wins and five seconds. The swift chestnut colt drew the rail and will be ridden once again by Frey.
The El Camino Real Derby field also includes Counting Days (30-1), Dice Flavor (20-1), Nina's Dragon (12-1), North Pacific (30-1), and Rush In (12-1).
Dice Flavor, trained by Irishman Paddy Gallagher, has made all four of his starts on grass and goes into the El Camino Real Derby off a third-place finish in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita Feb. 1. He drew the far outside with Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard.
Rush In finished fourth in the Gold Rush Stakes and most recently finished second, beaten a half-length, in a mile maiden race at Golden Gate Feb. 1. He is trained by William E. Morey, who also conditions Positive Response, the 2011 California Derby winner who ran third in the El Camino Real Derby.
Nina's Dragon hails from the Lloyd Mason barn and is coming off a third-place try in a mile allowance race at Golden Gate Feb. 1.
Counting Days, trained by Carla Gaines, won his only start on synthetic when he romped home by 10 1/4 lengths in winning a six-furlong maiden claiming race at Keeneland. North Pacific, trained by Len Kasmerski, broke his maiden in his eighth career start Jan. 19.
$200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III, Race 8, 4:40 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Wildcat Moon (FL), K Frey, J Bonde
2. Rush In (KY), J J Hernandez, W E Morey
3. Counting Days (KY), D Carr, C Gaines
4. Manando (KY), A T Gryder, B Baffert
5. Zeewat (PA), R A Baze, J Hollendorfer
6. Nina's Dragon (CA), J Couton, L C Mason
7. North Pacific (FL), F T Alvarado, L Kasmerski
8. Carving (KY), V Espinoza, B Baffert
9. Dice Flavor (KY), J Valdivia Jr., P Gallagher
All carry 121 pounds.