Russian Greek passes everyone to win the California Derby.

Russian Greek passes everyone to win the California Derby.

Vassar Photography

Russian Greek Last to First in Cal Derby

Giant's Causeway colt gives trainer Jerry Hollendorfer his fifth win in race.

Favored Russian Greek rallied from last on the far turn to register a one-length victory in the $100,520 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields Jan. 14 (VIDEO).

With his big finish Russian Greek, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for owner Olympia Star, took a big step toward the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 18. The son of Giant's Causeway  out of the Grindstone mare Sand Dollar won Golden Gate's Gold Rush Stakes Dec. 10 in similar come-from-behind fashion.

Overbrook Farm bred the winning dark bay/brown colt, a $100,000 Keeneland buy in November 2009, in Kentucky.

Russian Greek defeated six 3-year-old opponents while clocking the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.07 over Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface. Cahill Chrome finished second, with Senor Rain third.

“This horse will run in the El Camino Real Derby for sure,” Hollendorfer said afterward.

Hollendorfer collected his fifth win in the California Derby.

Jockey Aaron Gryder allowed Russian Greek to fall back early and they lagged three to four lengths behind the pack as stablemate Reconstruction made the lead and kept a strong pace (:23.26, :47.15) for a half-mile. Favored Hodge, invading from Southern California for trainer Mike Machowsky, stalked the leader to the turn before taking command rounding the bend while completing six furlongs in 1:12.26.

But Hodge would weaken through the lane as Cahill Chrome took over approaching mid-stretch. Russian Greek, who initiated his bid while well off the rail on the far turn, angled widest of all in the homestretch to nab Cahill Chrome in deep stretch. He won pulling away.

In spite of the big deficit early, Gryder said he was confident on Russian Greek throughout the running. 

“At the five-eighths pole he was on a beautiful stride and I felt good," he said. "He eased up to them and when I got him in the clear at the top of the stretch he extended. I was confident he’d get there because it felt like he was getting stronger and stronger.”

Cahill Chrome, ridden by Juan Hernandez, settled for second at odds of 29-1, with Senor Rain and Kevin Krigger 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Hodge faded to fourth, followed by Unveiled Heat, Blacky the Bull, and Reconstruction.

Russian Greek, who began his career with a maiden special weight victory on dirt at Santa Rosa last summer, won for the third time in four starts and nearly doubled his earnings to $121,700 with the Cal Derby triumph. His only loss came in his second start, the six-furlong Golden Nugget Stakes at Golden Gate in November. He is unbeaten in both of his route tries.

“I think this horse is developing into a pretty nice colt,” said Hollendorfer. “He had little things that bothered him after his first race so I gave him some time off.”

Carrying high weight of 122 pounds, Russian Greek paid $5.40, $3.40, and $2.60 as the 17-10 choice. Cahill Chrome, improving on his fourth-place effort in the Gold Rush, returned $18 and $6.60 as the longest shot in the field for trainer Roger Hansen. The exacta was worth $103.40. Senor Rain, shipping in from Southern California for trainer Peter Miller, paid $3.60 to show.