Golden Gate's new Tapeta Footings racing surface figures to get a severe test with weather predictions calling for up to five inches of rain Saturday and Sunday. Nonetheless, a big field entered the 1 1/16-mile California Derby, a race with no clear-cut favorite.
Many Rivers, a half-brother to Harlan's Holiday owned and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, could be the choice. The chestnut colt, by Storm Cat out of Christmas in Aiken, by Affirmed, has shown good speed in his last five starts. But aside from a 5 1/2-furlong maiden win Sept. 29 at Bay Meadows, he has failed to carry it.
Many Rivers is coming off a third-place finish behind Cal Derby rival Cafe Tortoni in a one-mile allowance heat over the Tapeta surface Jan. 4. The pacesetter lost a 1 1/2-length lead in the stretch and wound up beaten by one length. Prior to that, Many Rivers faded to third after leading for the first half-mile behind the well regarded El Gato Malo in the one-mile Gold Rush Dec. 15. El Gato Malo would go on to post an impressive win in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita earlier this month.
Hollendorfer is hoping for a breakthrough this time.
"He looks good," he said of Many Rivers. "We have high hopes for him. But I can't quite get him to do what I want him to do yet."
Frank Alvarado takes the reins this time, replacing Russell Baze, who winds up on Capture the Call for trainer Terry Knight.
Hollendorfer will also saddle Moonlit Master, most recently a closing fifth as the 19-10 choice in the six-furlong Stinson Beach Jan. 5 at Golden Gate. The Oklahoma-bred Mizzen Mast gelding was an allowance winner prior to that and owns a 2-1-1 record in six starts.
Legacy Ranch's Capture the Call romped to a 3 1/4-length maiden victory at Golden Gate in his first route try Jan. 4. The Elusive Quality colt was second by a half-length in his six-furlong debut Dec. 16 and has been strongly favored in both of his starts.
The lone stakes winner in the field is Yankee Bravo, who captured the one-mile Eddie Logan on the Santa Anita turf as the favorite in his U.S. debut for trainer Paddy Gallagher Dec. 29. Yankee Bravo, a Yankee Gentleman colt, won his only other start in England by six lengths on the turf last September.
Gallagher also saddles the Irish-bred Spinning Sound, fifth place finisher in the Eddie Logan.
Bert's Law, runner-up in the Gold Rush for trainer Ed Moger Jr., and Cafe Tortoni, fourth in the same race prior to his allowance win over Many Rivers for conditioner Jim Penney, both figure to attract attention.
Another to watch is Overland, a Harlan's Holiday gelding claimed for $32,000 by Steve Sherman for leading owner Robert Bone in November. In his lone start since, Overland won a one-mile starter allowance by two lengths. The California-bred bay is out of the Murrtheblurr mare Lookn At a Blurr, who produced two previous winners for Bone.
"This horse has a huge upside," Bone said of Overland. "It's the right time of year to take a shot. If he has a clear path late, he'll come running. This horse is absolutely blossoming."
Medjool is yet to win in four Southern California starts for trainer David Hofmans, but the son of Monarchos has three seconds and a third.
$150,000 California Derby (Race 8, 3:45 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Cafe Tortoni (BC), Luis Contreras
2. Robscarvic (IRE), Victor Espinoza
3. Victory Pete (FL), Joseph Talamo
4. Medjool (KY), Michael C. Baze
5. Many Rivers (KY), Frank T. Alvarado
6. Overland (CA), Chad P. Schvaneveldt
7. Capture the Call (KY), Russell A. Baze
8. Tres Borrachos (KY), Martin Garcia
9. Bert's Law (CA), Kyle Kaenel
10. Spinning Sound (IRE), Francisco Duran
11. Yankee Bravo (KY), Alex O. Solis
12. Moonlit Master (OK), Mario Gutierrez
Each assigned 121 pounds.