El Gato Malo, fifth as the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) last time out, takes on a dozen 3-year-old rivals in the $400,000 Lone Star Derby (gr. III) at the Grand Prairie, Texas racetrack May 10 .
Trained by Craig Dollase for West Point Thoroughbreds, grade III winner El Gato Malo also was under consideration for the Preakness (gr. I) at Pimlico May 17. But his connections, noting the shorter 1 1/16-mile distance of the Lone Star Derby, opted for this spot. This will be the El Corredor gelding's first start outside California and his initial try on anything other than a synthetic racing surface.
How the public thinks he'll adapt to a real dirt surface is likely to determine whether El Gato Malo will be favored in a competitive field. The Kentucky-bred is the lone graded winner in the field, which is dotted with horses who made their presence felt during the Derby prep season.
"He's been training in blinkers since his fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, and he's been working well," said Dollase. "He'll be making his first start over a dirt surface on Saturday, but we're optimistic that he'll be up to the challenge."
El Gato Malo, 2-1 on the morning line, came out of nowhere late last year to win the first three starts of his career by a combined 16 lengths, capped by a 6 1/4-length victory in the one-mile San Rafael (gr. III) at Santa Anita in January. He ran into Colonel John in his next two starts, finishing a closing second in the Sham (gr. III) prior to the Santa Anita Derby. El Gato Malo was favored in both of those losses.
In the Santa Anita Derby, El Gato Malo rallied while racing wide on the final turn following a slow start before losing steam in the stretch. He finished more than five lengths behind Colonel John, who went on to run sixth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Rafael Bejarano has the mount on El Gato Malo for the first time. They will break from post 2 in the big field.
Samba Rooster, the morning line choice at 9-5, returns for trainer Bob Baffert after nearly stealing Keeneland's 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes (gr. II) in his graded stakes debut at odds of 17-1 April 19. Samba Rooster set some wicked fractions on Keeneland's Polytrack-- :45.21 for the half and 1:09.48 for six furlongs--in opening a comfortable lead, but just failed to last the stretch while settling for second, one length behind Behindatthebar.
Garrett Gomez, who rode Samba Rooster for the first time in the Lexington, has the mount once more. A Songandaprayer colt owned by the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernard C. Schiappa, Samba Rooster has not been out of the money in six starts.
"Garrett looked like he was skiing on him in the Lexington, so we've been trying to slow him down a bit in his training," said Baffert, a 13-time stakes winner at Lone Star Park. "He's a tough one to reign in from the gate, but he seems to be a little more focused wearing blinkers."
Trainer Steve Asmussen enters two in the Lone Star Derby, Rebel Stakes (gr. II) runner-up King's Silver Son and Borderland Derby winner Poni Colada.
King's Silver Son, a gray Mizzen Mast colt, failed to live up to expectations in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), however, finishing ninth, 11 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Gayego April 12. Poni Colada comes off a strong second-place showing in the Northern Spur on the Arkansas Derby undercard at Oaklawn Park. The Volponi colt won Sunland Park's Borderland by eight lengths in February.
My Pal Charlie, an Indian Charlie colt owned by B. Wayne Hughes and trained by Albert Stall Jr., ran forwardly in the Arkansas Derby last time out before tiring to finish fifth. He was second behind Pyro in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) in his preceding start.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is represented by Texas Wildcatter, who finished second, a nose behind Visionaire in the Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct March 8. The Monarchos colt was a disappointing eighth, more than 33 lengths behind Tale of Ekati, in the Wood Memorial (gr. I).
Leonides ships from California to make his route debut for trainer Vladimir Cerin. Leonides showed promise at 2 with powerful losing efforts in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) and Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) last summer. The Richter Scale colt has started just twice this year, most recently finishing second to Salute the Sarge in the six furlong San Miguel March 29.
Golden Yank, a two-time stakes winner at 2 who missed taking the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot by a neck in December, leads the Lone Star Derby field in earnings with $279,832. The Yankee Gentleman gelding, trained by Gary Thomas, has yet to add much to his total in 2008, however, following a fourth-place finish in the Rebel and a seventh in the Arkansas Derby. He is 20-1 on the morning line.
Others in the field are recent last-out allowance winners Limestone Edge, who is coupled with Samba Rooster and Fort Apache; Isabull, beaten in each of Oaklawn's Triple Crown prep races; Real Appeal, seventh in the Illinois Derby (gr. II); and Louisiana-bred stakes winner Ide Like a Double.
$400,000 Lone Star Derby (gr. III, Race 10, 5:47 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, ML Odds
1. a-Limestone Edge, Corey J. Lanerie, 9-5
2. El Gato Malo, Rafael Bejarano, 2-1
3. Golden Yank, M. Clifton Berry, 20-1
4. Poni Colada, Quincy Hamilton, 15-1
5. King's Silver Son, Luis S. Quinonez, 15-1
6. Texas Wildcatter, Robby Albarado, 8-1
7. Ide Like a Double, Kerwin D. Clark, 15-1
8. Isabull, Timothy T. Doocy, 30-1
9. a-Samba Rooster, Garrett K. Gomez, 9-5
10. Leonides, Richard Migliore, 10-1
11. My Pal Charlie, Jamie Theriot, 12-1
12. Fort Apache, Eddie M. Martin, Jr., 30-1
13. Real Appeal, James Graham, 30-1
a-Lanni Family Trust owned entry
Each assigned 122 pounds.