Southern California shipper Dice Flavor, whose only four starts had been on grass for trainer Paddy Gallagher, burst away from the field past mid-stretch to easily win the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) in an upset at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 16 (VIDEO).
The victory in Northern California's most important race for 3-year-olds completed quite a day for breeders Paget Bloodstock, Nearctic Bloodstock, and Carhue Investments. They also bred Dice Flavor's half brother, Swift Warrior, a son of First Samurai who captured the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. IIIT) in Florida on turf a few hours earlier. Both horses are out of the Afleet mare Afleet Summer.
Scat Daddy, who sired Dice Flavor, was also the sire of last year's El Camino Real Derby, Daddy Nose Best, trained by Steve Asmussen. Dice Flavor is the fourth consecutive shipper to win the El Camino Real, following Connemara in 2010, Silver Medallion in 2011, and Daddy Nose Best.
Dice Flavor, a $100,000 Barretts 2-year-old in training purchase last May, is owned by Oda Racing Stable and US Equine. The chestnut colt earned his first victory over winners in the El Camino Real, which he captured impressively by 3 3/4 lengths in a time of 1:51.45 over Golden Gate's Tapeta main track. He was sent off at odds of 9-1.
Nina's Dragon finished second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Counting Days in third. Carving, one of two entrants from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, wound up fourth, nearly seven lengths behind the winner.
Baffert's other charge, Manando went off as the 2-1 favorite but ran last after breaking away on the front end and weakening in upper stretch over the tiring Tapeta surface. Zeewat, the California Derby winner who went off as the 5-2 second choice, was fifth.
Jose Valdivia Jr. settled Dice Flavor in eighth position early in the field of nine as Manando wrested the early lead from Wildcat Moon at the rail and opened up by three lengths on the clubhouse turn. Manando, ridden by Aaron Gryder, continued to maintain a big edge down the backstretch while carving quarter mile fractions of :23.10, :47.34, and 1:11.67. He was chased by Cal Derby runner-up Wildcat Moon and Counting Days.
Manando was deep trouble as the field reached the head of the stretch and Wildcat Moon took a narrow edge briefly along the inside. Meanwhile, Dice Flavor, who lagged at the back while off the rail into the second turn, worked his way through traffic to challenge off the turn. One of five horses vying for the lead in upper stretch, he took command past the furlong mark and drew clear to the wire under little urging from Valdivia.
"He was moving easily all the way," said Valdivia, who has ridden Dice Flavor in all five of his races. "He made up a lot of ground and made the lead easily. I've felt that he had the physical talent, but mentally he's not all there. But today he impressed me because if he didn't accelerate right when that hole opened he would have been stuck."
Nina's Dragon, who also raced far back early, made a nice bid in the stretch as well but evened out in the final furlong and settled for second under Julien Couton. The stalker Counting Days, ridden by Dennis Carr, was a clear third over Carving. The latter colt, owned in part by Olympic ski champion Bode Miller, was erratic through the homestretch while a well-beaten fourth.
Dice Flavor paid $21, $10.80, $9.20. Nina's Dragon, a California-bred sent off at 13-1 in his stakes debut for trainer Lloyd Mason, returned $12 and $7.80 and was part of a $168.20 exacta. The $1 trifecta, with 25-1 Counting Days in the show slot, was worth $1,068.80. Counting Days, from the Southern California stable of Carla Gaines, paid $15.20 to show. A $1 superfecta returned $7,509.20.
Zeewat, who showed little speed for Russell Baze and had no rally, was followed home by Wildcat Moon, North Pacific, Rush In, and Manando.
Dice Flavor was making his second start of the year for Gallagher following a close third in a one-mile optional claiming race at Santa Anita Feb. 1. He graduated from the maiden ranks in his third start as a 2-year-old Dec. 16, scoring by 1 3/4 lengths from off the pace in a 1 1/16-mile grass event at Betfair Hollywood Park. His first two starts, in grass sprints, produced a third and a fifth.
The victory was worth $120,000 and boosted Dice Flavor's career earnings to $160,500. It was worth 10 points to the winner toward a possible start in the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Dice Flavor is not an early nominee to the Triple Crown series. His owners have until March 23 to decide if they want to pay the late nomination fee of $6,000 to make Dice Flavor eligible.
Gallagher, who didn't make it to Golden Gate Fields because he was running a fever, said he will meet with Dice Flavor's owners to discuss the horse's next start.