Odds-on choice Zeewat overcame a less than ideal trip to claim the $100,000 California Derby Jan. 12 at Golden Gate Fields for his second straight stakes score around two turns (VIDEO).
Zeewat wore down pacesetter Wildcat Moon in the final eighth of a mile under strong encouragement from jockey Russell Baze, posting his fourth lifetime win in six starts by a half-length. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile Cal Derby, the final major prep for Golden Gate's Feb. 16 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III), was 1:46.50 over the Tapeta racing surface.
Jerry Hollendorfer trains and co-owns Zeewat along with longtime client George Todaro. The son of 2012 leading juvenile sire Harlan's Holiday out of the Distant View mare Delizia was coming off a 3 1/4-length victory in the one-mile Gold Rush Stakes over the track Dec. 8.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Derry Meeting Farm, the winning bay colt sold for $50,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Zeewat, sent off at 9-10 in the field of seven 3-year-olds, hopped at the start and was pinched back when Wildcat Moon, one slot outside of the favorite, veered in after the break. Wildcat Moon quickly took control under Kyle Frey going into the clubhouse turn, and Zeewat settled fourth as Wildcat Moon led Southern California shippers Will True Up and Tree of Life through leisurely quarter mile fractions of :25.43, :50.60, and 1:15.25.
Advancing as they approached the far turn, Zeewat angled to the three path rounding the bend and rallied four wide in upper stretch to challenge for the lead. Zeewat and Wildcat Moon were on even terms through the drive before the favorite inched clear under energetic handling from Baze in the final sixteenth.
"He overcame some trouble, he got pinched back at the start and was wide most of the way, so I was very pleased the way he ran on in the end," said Hollendorfer after claiming his sixth win in the California Derby. The Hall of Fame conditioner won last year's Cal Derby with Russian Greek.
Wildcat Moon, who survived a claim of foul for interference coming into the stretch, held the second spot by 1 1/4 lengths over Tree of Life. The filly Butterfly Soul rallied willingly to get fourth. She was followed by Will True Up, Condiment, and My Best Bet.
Zeewat, the 122-pound highweight, increased his earnings to $177,700 while returning $3.80, $2.80, and $2.40. The Jeff Bonde-trained Wildcat Moon, making his stakes debut while routing for the first time, paid $8.80 and $4.40 in a big effort. The exacta was worth $29.40. Tree of Life, ridden by Dennis Carr, paid $2.60 to show.
"He's real calm," said Baze. "When (Wildcat Moon) made a left turn, I checked my horse a little bit. He had to overcome the slow start and was wide on the second turn. I was pretty impressed with the way he finished up today. He waits for you to tell him what to do, and when you do, he does it."
Hollendorfer said the next assignment for Zeewat, a Triple Crown nominee, will be the El Camino Real Derby. An official Kentucky Derby prep race, the El Camino Real Derby is a 1 1/8-mile contest.
"I think he'll go further," responded Baze when asked how Zeewat will handle the extra distance of the El Camino Real Derby. "There's no doubt in my mind. He's got a nice way of moving. I've always liked the way he moves so efficiently over the ground."