Royal Gem battled 50-1 Aly Bubba and 7-10 favorite Century City to the wire for neck victory in the $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby (gr. IIIT) at 1 1/8-mile on the fall meet's closing day Sunday.
The Kenutcky-bred Royal Academy colt tracked the leaders under Russell Baze to the second turn. He made a three-wide move into the drive to reach the leaders Surprized and Aly Bubba at the furlong pole, then gamely prevailed in an all-out effort.
Century City, a highly-regarded Danzig colt making his United States debut under Mike Smith, dwelt at the beginning and needed strong urging to reach the field early. He advanced strongly on the inside of the eight-horse field, but seemed to tire on the final turn before swinging to the outside and making a accelerating to the wire. He finished a nose behind Aly Bubba.
"He just stood there (when the gates opened)," said Smith. "I just about went over his head. I left there and he didn't. They had all gone a few strides before we left. When he heard the bang of the gates opening, he kind of planted himself and was shaking. In Europe, the gates open kind of softly and there isn't the noise that our gates make. If the assistant starter hadn't kicked him a couple of times, he'd still be in there."
Surprized, who was a close fourth, led until late before stubbornly giving way while setting fractions of :25.56, :51.00, 1:15.90 and 1:39.83. The winning time was 1:48.38.
Trained by Bobby Frankel for owners Pamela Blatz and Helen Smith, Royal Gem was a $225,000 Keenenland September 2000 yearling purchase. Unraced at 2, he is three-for-five this year, all on the grass, while pocketing more than $140,000 for the owners. The victory snapped a two-race losing streak.
Kitchwa Stables and Thomas Nichols-owned Century City, out of the Alysheba mare Alywow, was second to Rock of Gibraltar in the Group I Irish 1000 Guineas in May. In his last start, he won the Group II Goffs International for his new U.S. owner Nichols at the Curragh July 13. Trainer Beau Greely planned to race him in the Hollywood Derby Dec. 1.
Royal Gem paid $6.80, $4.60 and $2.10. Aly Bubba, third in a $32,000 starter allowance in his previous start, returned $34.80 and $2.10. Century City paid $2.10.
Baze earned his 28th Bay Meadows riding championship by winning 109 races during the 55-day fall meeting. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer won his 25th consecutive Bay Meadows conditioning crown by saddling 48 winners.
Hollendorfer was also the leading stakes trainer at the fall meeting with four. Jason Lumpkins, who finished second in the jockey standings with 77 victories, was the leading stakes jockey with eight wins.