Ocean Terrace stamped himself as a leading Kentucky Derby contender when he scored an impressive victory in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Saturday at Golden Gate Fields.
Owned by San Francisco Bay Area residents David Shimmon and Bill Bianco of Fog City Stable, the Kentucky-bred son of Saint Ballado kept his record perfect at Golden Gate with a 1 1/2-length victory over 6-5 favorite Ministers Wild Cat.
The win was the third in as many races for Ocean Terrace, who cost the partnership $700,000 as a yearling. Enjoying a dream trip under jockey Mike Smith, Ocean Terrace won the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds in 1:42.26. Ministers Wild Cat, who raced wide throughout, nosed out Ten Most Wanted for the place spot.
Ocean Terrace vied with Ten Most Wanted and jockey Pat Day early while stalking long shot pacesetter Onebadshark through fast fractions (:22 3/5 for the quarter, :45 2/5 for the half, 1:09 2/5 for six furlongs) before moving up to challenge for the lead at the top of the stretch.
Ocean Terrace surged to a one-length advantage in midstretch and then gamely held off Ministers Wild Cat and rider Kent Desormeaux and Ten Most Wanted, who rallied after falling back to just miss second money.
"We expected (Onebadshark) to be out there early and I was able to sit just off them and keep (Ministers Wild Cat) wide," Smith said. "I could have placed him anywhere I wanted. He's a push button horse. I knew he were going fast but my horse was very comfortable."
Trained by Stanford graduate Bob Hess, Jr., Ocean Terrace earned $110,000 for the victory, bringing his career earnings to $160,400. Co-owner Shimmon said the victory was sweet for more than just financial reasons.
"Growing up in the Bay Area and going to Bay Meadows (where the El Camino Real Derby was run from 1982-2000), winning this race means a lot to me," said Shimmon. "Knowing the history of this race, with its connection to the Triple Crown races, it fits perfectly into our dreams of going to the Kentucky Derby."
"This is neat to win this race before my home crowd," said Hess. "I want to keep (Ocean Terrace) fresh. We've asked so much of him already. This is only his third race. The learning experience has been more for Bob than for the horse. He keeps teaching me. I learned a lot today about how fit he is. He's a sound horse and he keeps getting sounder. I know it's a cliché, but he's a very, very smart horse."
Hess said he expects to have one more race before the Kentucky Derby, if all goes accoding to plan.
The El Camino Real Derby is Northern California's premier steppingstone to the Triple Crown events, having produced: a Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year (Charismatic, 1999), two Kentucky Derby runners-up (Cavonnier, 1996 and Casual Lies, 1992), five Preakness Stakes winners (Charismatic,1999, Tabasco Cat, 1994, Snow Chief, 1986, Tank's Prospect, 1985, and Gate Dancer,1984), and a Belmont Stakes winner (Tabasco Cat, 1994).
"We'll sit down and talk with Bob about our next race," said Shimmon, who races his horses under the name Fog City Stable. "We're leaning toward the Santa Anita Derby (on April 5). This race was incredibly important to us and he ran a bigger race than I thought he could."
Ocean Terrace, a chestnut colt by Saint Ballado, was coming of a one-length victory in a seven-furlong allowance race at Santa Anita on Feb. 16. He paid $11.60, $4.20 and $3.40 as the third betting choice in a field of 10.
Ministers Wild Cat, who had captured the Golden State Mile on Feb. 9 at Golden Gate Fields and drew most of the support in spite of his outside post position and inexperience, paid $3.20 and $2.60. Ten Most Wanted paid $3.20. Winning Stripes and jockey Russell Baze closed from far back to get fourth.
Kent Desormeaux, who rode Ministers Wild Cat, was pleased with his colt's effort.
"I thought it was a tremendous effort," said Desormeaux. "I think he improved 10 lengths from his last start. I like everything he did today. In the last race he was keen early and I had to tell him what to do. Today I only had to ask him. I was able to ride him with my fingertips. The winner is a very, very good horse. The top three horses can really run. I've ridden them all and I wish they could have stayed apart. But I'm really, really happy with my horse."
Neil Drysdale, who trains Ministers Wild Cat, agreed.
"Kent was able to get him a breather on the second turn and he finished very well, but the winner had too much left," Drysdale said. "He's still a little green and tried to lug in a couple of times in the lane, but I think he learned more from this race again. We'll look for a rematch in the Santa Anita Derby."
Day said Ten Most Wanted is a colt with a future.
"He was a little keen to go early, but he relaxed nicely for me on the backstretch and picked it up coming into the stretch," Day said. "He made a good first impression on me. He's still learning and there's room for improvement."