Though somewhat erratic through the homestretch, Ranger Heartley held off odds-on choice Connemara to win the $100,000 California Derby by three-quarters of a length at Golden Gate Fields Jan. 16 (VIDEO) .
Sent north by Southern California trainer John Sadler, Ranger Heartley, a $32,000 claim as a maiden last summer, was making his stakes debut for owners David and Herb Alpert. The winning Lost Soldier gelding posted a 5-1 surprise in the 1 1/16-mile test of 3-year-olds, the first derby to be run on the West Coast in 2010.
Connemara, the 7-10 favorite in the six-horse field from the Todd Pletcher barn, had every opportunity to snatch this one from the winner, but could not close the deal from between horses in the lane
With Julio Garcia aboard, Ranger Heartley broke on top and quickly opened a two-length advantage. He was in hand while maintaining a comfortable lead through soft quarter-mile fractions of :24.20, :49.90 and 1:14.37 over Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface.
Connemara, who had to overcome a hesitant start, was catching the leader around the far turn and appeared to get the break he needed when Ranger Heartley lugged out into the three path coming into the stretch. Connemara, angled to Roger Heartley's inside, drew close under strong urging from Baze. But Ranger Heartley, despite some weaving, dug in for Garcia and out-kicked his rival in a fine display of determination. The winning time was 1:45.40.
"I talked to John Sadler the other day and he said, 'I don't care, just go to the front,'" said Garcia, who was jubilant afterward. "The horse runs better that way. Nobody put any pressure on me and I had a lot of horse at the three-eighths pole.
"Believe me, this horse can run," the jocky added. "When they came up to him at the eighth pole, he dug in and surprised me. The track is slow today. I think if the track was faster he would have won easier."
Thomas Baines, another Southern California shipper for trainer Doug O'Neill, bid late along the rail for Michael Baze and nearly got second, finishing a neck behind Connemara. Then came Shudacudawudya, Our Minesweeper and Cahill Country.
Ranger Heartley posted his second straight win and third victory in four starts. Since being claimed away from trainer Matthew Chew at Hollywood Park in July, the dark bay has won four of six starts for Sadler. His prior victory, over first-level allowance rivals Nov. 27 at Hollywood, came in front-running fashion as well.
Out of the Silver Deputy mare Deputy G. G., Ranger Heartley was bred in Kentucky by Stoneview Farm.
Ranger Heartley's fourth win in nine lifetime starts was worth $60,000 and more than doubled his earnings to $119,440.
Under equal weights of 121 pounds, Ranger Heartley went off as the third choice in the small field and paid $13.80, $4.60 and $3 and keyed a $36.60 exacta.
Connemara ($2.60, $2.40), who won both of his starts to begin his career last fall for Pletcher, may have been a little short for his sophomore debut in stakes company.
Baze said the favorite was victimized by the lack of pace and an unwillingness to give all that he had.
"We needed a little help with the pace and obviously we didn't get any," said Baze. "He has to see daylight in front of him or he'll only give you 80 percent, and 80 percent wasn't good enough today."
Baze believes that Connemara, a well-bred son of 2000 European Horse of the Year Giant's Causeway , has a bright future.
"He's extremely talented," said Baze. "When we were galloping out he grabbed the bit and took off with me, which was kind of frustrating. I'd love to have another shot at him."
Thomas Baines, coming off a third-place try in the Eddie Logan Stakes on grass at Santa Anita Dec. 28, was $3 to show.
Ranger Heartley and some of his rivals could be back in action on Feb. 20 at Golden Gate for the $150,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at 1 1/8 miles.