Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer lost his leading candidate for the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Feb. 15 when his undefeated colt Exit Stage Left sustained a training injury. But the Hall of Fame conditioner had a good back-up plan.
He entered grade I winner Tamarando instead. Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams' California homebred is 3-1 on the morning line after entries were taken Feb. 12 at Golden Gate Fields, and is second choice among the eight 3-year-old candidates for the 1 1/8-mile Tapeta track test. The El Camino Real Derby is the Northern California track's major steppingstone to the Triple Crown.
Tamarando has three wins in his career from nine starts, all of his victories coming on synthetic tracks including last summer's Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and the Real Quiet Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park in November. The Bertrando colt was most recently second to California Chrome in the California Cup Derby Jan. 25 on dirt at Santa Anita Park but didn't pack his usual late punch that day.
"We were talking about him coming here anyway. That's why we noiminated him," Hollendorfer said of Tamarando. "The horse seems to prefer synthetic tracks. That's the hope. He doesn't seem to be able to close as much ground on dirt as synthetics. We hope for better position."
A deep closer, Tamarando has proven to be very consistent, finishing on the board in all of his prior races. In addition to his half-length triumph in the Del Mar Futurity, he ran third in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 14, finishing seven lengths behind stablemate Shared Belief, last year's 2-year-old male Eclipse Award winner.
"He's run well every time he's ever run," Hollendorfer said. "If he isn't there now, he'll get back on the (3-year-old) radar if he wins here."
Hollendorfer has tabbed Hall of Fame rider Russell Baze to ride Tamarando from post 4. The trainer has won the El Camino Real Derby a record five times and Baze was the winning rider in four of them. Baze has eight wins in the race overall.
"I try to ride him on everything," Hollendorfer said of Baze, who would have ridden Exit Stage Left. "I'm sure he fits this horse."
In a race that has no clear-cut pacesetter, Baze said Tamarando could be sitting a little closer to the lead than he's used to. "Looking at the past performances, there doesn't seem to be much speed. I'll just try to get him into a comfortable position."
As for California Derby winner Exit Stage Left, Hollendorfer said the colt came back from a routine morning gallop Feb. 8 at Golden Gate Fields with what he described as a tendon fiber tear. The New Jersey-bred son of Noonmark is going to Pegasus Training and Rehabilitation Center in Washington state for treatment and is expected to return to racing next year. Hollendorfer owns Exit Stage Left, who is 3-for-3 in his career, in partnership with Dr. Mark Dedomenico, founder of the Pegasus facility.
Hollendorfer also has entered Puppy Manners, who will break from the 2 slot as an 8-1 chance with Frank Alvarado aboard. The trainer said the Kentucky-bred son of Kitten's Joy has been a slow learner but has really come around in his past three starts. The $95,000 Keeneland yearling was most recently a closing fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Cal Derby.
The El Camino Real morning line favorite at 5-2 is Cal Derby runner-up Enterprising, a Glen Hill Farm homebred who will be ridden by Gary Stevens for trainer Tom Proctor. Stevens last rode at Golden Gate in 1998, winning the San Francisco Mile (gr. IIT) aboard Hawksley Hill for trainer Neil Drysdale.
Stevens, who returned to the saddle early in 2013 after a seven-year absence from racing, won the 1990 El Camino Real Derby with the Ron McAnally-conditioned Silver Ending.
He could be sitting on the frontrunner in Enterprising, who made his synthetic track debut in the Cal Derby with Aaron Gryder aboard while Stevens was in Florida to ride Mucho Macho Man and attend the Eclipse Awards, where he was a finalist as outstanding jockey. The son of Elusive Quality won the one-mile Eddie Logan Stakes for Stevens on grass at Santa Anita in his previous race and has two victories from four lifetime starts.
"He had a nice workout last week," Stevens said. "He's a colt with a lot of potential, a lot of ability.
"I'm not going to forecast what we'll do," the Hall of Fame rider added when asked about race strategy. "He has speed. Actually, he's better with a target. I don't want to give anything away. Tom Procter is never big on giving me instructions. He pretty much turns me loose. We'll play it by ear when the gates open."
Dance With Fate comes off a one-mile turf allowance win for trainer Peter Eurton at Santa Anita Jan. 24 and graduated over Polytrack at Del Mar in August prior to running second to Tamarando in the Del Mar Futurity. The Florida-bred son of Two Step Salsa was also second in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) on dirt before finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He is pegged at 7-2 on the morning line with Gryder up for the first time.
Improvement can be expected from Craftsman, who was a well-beaten fifth in the Dec. 28 Eddie Logan as the 3-2 favorite in his initial start in the United States for trainer Simon Callaghan. The Irish-bred son of Mastercraftsman was a group III winner in his final appearance for trainer Aidan O'Brien last October and will be making his initial start on a synthetic track while also donning blinkers for the first time. He has been training solidly on the Santa Anita dirt.
Another Southern California invader is the Doug O'Neill-trained I'll Wrap It Up, who could vie with Enterprising for the early lead. The gray/roan Tapit colt was most recently fourth in a one-mile allowance/optional claimer at Santa Anita Jan. 24.
Remmah Racing's Infosec was third in the Cal Derby at 25-1 in his second start for trainer Frank Lucarelli since being claimed off Bob Baffert for $30,000 out of a maiden race at Hollywood last November. He won a starter allowance at Golden Gate in December.
"It's tough race, obviously," Lucarelli said. "My horse took a big jump last time and he needs to take a big jump again.
"We claimed him for $30,000; it was my owners' idea—I thought they were crazy (to claim a horse from Baffert). But it looks like a good investment. It has worked out well so far."
Baffert will be represented by maiden Icy Ride, who has posted three consecutive fourth-place finishes at Santa Anita. The $100,000 son of Candy Ride is owned by Jill Baffert, Bode Miller, and Bernie Schiappa.
The El Camino Real Derby, the eighth race on Saturday's card with a 4:15 p.m.PST scheduled post, awards points toward a possible start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Ten points goes to the winner, four for second, two for third, one for fourth.
$200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III, Race 8, 4:15 p.m.) 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Craftsman (IRE), D Carr, S Callaghan, 8/1
2. Puppy Manners (KY), F T Alvarado, J Hollendorfer, 8/1
3. Infosec (CA), I D Enriquez, F Lucarelli, 10/1
4. Tamarando (CA), R A Baze, J Hollendorfer, 3/1
5. Enterprising (FL), G L Stevens, T F Proctor, 5/2
6. Icy Ride (KY), J Valdivia Jr., B Baffert, 10/1
7. I'll Wrap It Up (KY), J J Hernandez, D F O'Neill, 10/1
8. Dance With Fate (FL), A T Gryder, P Eurton, 7/2
All assigned 121 pounds.
Blinkers On: Craftsman