The El Camino Real is California's only graded Triple Crown prep on dirt.
Ten sophomores have entered the race, which should have a fast pace, with six entrants having raced first, second, or third at the first call in their most recent start. Three will trying a route of ground for the first time while five will make their first start over dirt.
Behindatthebar will make his first start for Satish Sanan's Padua Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher in the 27th running of the El Camino. It is likely the last to be contested at Bay Meadows, which is slated for redevelopment at the end of the year.
"We've had him here (in the Pletcher barn) just under a month," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher. "He's our type of horse, a big, classic looking kind of individual."
The son of Forest Wildcat enters the El Camino off a 2 1/2-length victory in a maiden special weight Feb. 2 at Santa Anita, his second start. In that race, Behindatthebar made a five-wide bid on the far turn and won handily, cocking his ears back and fourth in the stretch.
Following the maiden score, Padua Stables purchased a 90% interest in Behindatthebar with Michael Shustek and Don Stanley retaining 10%. Behindatthebar, a $140,000 OBS June graduate, was then transferred to Pletcher from the barn of Craig Dollase.
Behindatthebar, who finished second in his debut, worked five furlongs in company with Circular Quay at Hollywood Park March 2, covering the distance in 1:00.
The El Camino will be Behindatthebar's first race longer than seven furlongs, his first against winners, and his first on dirt. Jockey Michael Baze will come north to ride Behindatthebar, replacing David Flores.
"David has a commitment in the Santa Anita Oaks, so we're going with Michael," said McCarthy. "He worked the horse the other day and was pleased with the way he went."
Trainer David Hofmans will try to win the second El Camino of his career with Coast Guard, who enters the race off a second-place finish to Crown of Thorns in the Robert Lewis Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Feb. 2. Hoffmans won the third running of the race in 1984 with French Legionaire.
"He's maturing all the time and is not nearly at his peak," said Hofmans of his charge. "He has a lot of talent but has to learn to channel it in the right way. The last race showed he fit the stakes category."
Coast Guard, who has one win and three second-place finishes in four starts, was entered in last Saturday's Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita but was scratched.
"He had a hot foot Thursday and Friday," said Hoffmans. "We didn't want to take any chances. We had (the El Camino) as an option, so we scratched him."
Coast Guard, by Stormy Atlantic , will be ridden by Aaron Gryder.
Nikki'sgoldensteed is the only stakes winner in the field, having captured the Turf Paradise Derby at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 9.
"In order to beat some of the big guys, he has to jump forward," said trainer Bob Hess Jr., who won the 2003 El Camino Real with Ocean Terrace. "I'm confident he'll run well but I don't know if he can beat Coast Guard and Behindatthebar."
Nikki'sgoldensteed broke his maiden in his fifth start before winning the Turf Paradise Derby, and now has back-to-back wins. Jon Court picked up the mount for the Phoenix win and will ride Nikki'sgoldensteed, a son of Formal Gold, in the El Camino.
Master Daniel, trained by Doug O'Neill, will return north after winning a six-furlong maiden special weight by four lengths at Golden Gate Fields Jan. 4 in his latest start.
"It'd be nice to have a few more races under his belt, but he definitely has the pedigree and the workouts to be with these kind of horses," said O'Neill. Master Daniel will make his third career start and his first beyond six furlongs.
Master Daniel, by Broken Vow , worked six furlongs in 1:14.20 March 1 at Hollywood Park. Jockey Russell Baze, who was in Southern California to ride in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), rode Master Daniel that morning and will have the mount. Baze has won the El Camino five times, including the last three renewals.
Master Daniel drew the outside post, but O'Neill believes that will be mitigated by Baze's presence.
"(The post) is definitely a challenge, but having a rider who is very familiar with Bay Meadows helps," said O'Neill.
Bamaha Breeze heads the local contenders. He is undefeated in three starts despite a tendency to race greenly.
"He's still a little green," trainer Steve Miyadi said of Bamaha Breeze. "We worked him (March 3). He settled behind another horse, and we made him come through a hole. He's been a little hesitant going inside horses. He probably needs blinkers."
Miyadi claimed the son of Lord Carson for $20,000 on behalf of owners ETF Racing Partners, Napoleon Lopez, and Ben Raygoza. In all three of his starts, Bamaha Breeze raced close to the pace up the backstretch, lost ground on the far turn, and unleashed a stretch rally to win.
In his second race, Bamaha Breeze jumped shadows on the far turn but rallied to win by three-quarters of a length. He returned in a Cal-bred allowance Feb. 21 at Santa Anita and closed up the inside to win by a head.
Miyadi, however, said he may scratch Bamaha Breeze out of the El Camino.
"If there are significant scratches, I'm in," Miyadi said. "If there aren't, I'm not."
Another local contender is Pleasure Grounds, second in the Stinson Beach Stakes at six furlongs at Golden Gate two starts back. The son of Donerail Court enters the El Camino off an entry-level allowance win going one mile at Bay Meadows Feb. 15. Jockey Chad Schvaneveldt will ride for trainer Dean Pederson.
Tres Borrachos, fourth in the California Derby at Golden Gate Jan. 27, recent maiden winners General Dan and Autism Awareness, and the maiden Dreamed Day complete the field.
Autism Awareness, owned by Johnny Toboado, was named to bring awareness to the complex developmental disability that affects a person's ability to interact with others.
$150,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III, Race 8, 4:15 p.m.), 1 1/16 Miles, 3-Year-Olds
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey, Morning Line
1. Nikki'sgoldensteed, 117, Jon Court, 9-2
2. General Dan, 115, Kyle Kaenel, 20-1
3. Autism Awareness, 115, Luis Contreras, 30-1
4. Bamaha Breeze, 115, Luis Martinez, 8-1
5. Tres Borrachos, 115, Martin Garcia, 10-1
6. Pleasure Grounds, 115, Chad Schvaneveldt, 6-1
7. Behindatthebar, 115, Michael Baze, 7-2,
8. Coast Guard, 115, Aaron Gryder, 5-2
9. Dreamed Day, 115, Frank Alvarado, 30-1
10. Master Daniel, 115, Russell Baze, 6-1