Colt With a Cause Shocks El Camino Real

Autism Awareness, the longest shot in the field, sprang a touching $126 upset in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO) for 3-year-olds at Bay Meadows March 8. Johnny Taboada, the horse's owner, has an 8-year-old son, Renzo, who has autism.

Named to bring awareness to the complex developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to interact with others, Autism Awareness stalked a moderate pace along the inside for Luis Contreras and swung out at the top of the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths while covering the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.17.

“What a great opportunity to name a horse with some meaning behind it,” Taboada said. “We want to raise awareness among people about autism.”

A dark bay or brown California-bred colt by Tannersmyman, Autism Awareness is trained by Genaro Vallejo.

“(Autism Awareness) relaxed the way I wanted him to and when it was time to go, he took off when I asked him,” said Contreras. “He finished strong.”

The win marked consecutive victories for Autism Awareness, who broke maiden in his his 13th start Jan. 21 at Golden Gate Fields.

“The way he looks and the way he was training, we knew he could do better than he was showing,” said Vallejo. “We thought he’d be better around two turns. He has a really long stride. I brought him over to work before this race to makes sure he handled the track.”

Taboada purchased Autism Awareness for $1,000 at the 2006 CTBA Northern California yearling sale. Autism Awareness earned $90,000 for his El Camino victory, improving his lifetime bankroll to $151,967. Autism Awareness, out of Lady Essex by Sharp Victor, was bred by Jim Eaton, Paul Arndt, Dave Marabel and Mr. and Mrs. Terry Smith.

Autism Awareness has not been nominated to the Triple Crown but Taboada said he’d consider a $6,000 supplemental nomination.

“I’m pretty sure we have (the money for a supplemental nomination) now,” Taboada said.

Taboada owns Autism Awareness’ 2-year-old full sister, Cure Autism.

“About three years ago, I started buying yearlings so we could name them,” Taboada said. “We named him this because our youngest son (Renzo) was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. My wife (Hedieh) wanted to name the horse. What a Cinderella story.”

Runner-up Nikki’sgoldensteed, winner of the Turf Paradise Derby, showed speed from his inside post but lost the lead at the seven-eighths pole when he jumped shadows. The son of Formal Gold continued to jump shadows up the backstretch but regained the lead at the five-sixteenth mark before losing the advantage to Autism Awareness mid-stretch. He dug in to narrow the gap slightly at the end.

Tres Borrachos, fourth in the California Derby, finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Nikki’sgoldensteed and a head in front of fourth-place finisher Pleasure Grounds.

“(Nikki’sgoldensteed) was jumping shadows on the first turn but then settled down,” said jockey Jon Court, who rode the runner-up. “He finished up competitively. I think he’s getting better with each race. I think he has a promising future.”

Southern California invaders Behindatthebar and Coast Guard, the top two wagering selections, disappointed, finishing fifth and eighth respectively.

“(Coast Guard) never really leveled off today,” said jockey Aaron Gryder of the 5-2 favorite. “He was traveling a little high-headed. It was the first time getting dirt in his face so I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. I know he’s a better horse than he showed today.”

Off at 62-1, Autism Awareness paid $126, $46.40 and $17.60. Nikki’sgoldensteed paid $4.60 and $3.80, completing at $2 exacta worth $593.60. Tres Borrachos, ridden by Martin Garcia, was $7.20 to show. The superfecta paid $4,097.42 for a dime with 13-1 Pleasure Grounds finishing fourth.

Behindatthebar was followed by Dreamed Day, Master Daniel, Coast Guard and General Dan. Bamaha Breeze was scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)

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