Even money favorite Bwana Bull closed from second to last in the opening quarter mile to capture the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Saturday at Bay Meadows.
The 3-year-old son of Holy Bull covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.22. Bwana Bull gave jockey Russell Baze his third consecutive win in the El Camino.
The El Camino triumph was Bwana Bull’s second stakes win and third victory a row, having captured the California Derby and a first level allowance event in his last two starts, both coming at Golden Gate Fields.
Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who also had fifth and sixth place finishers Candy’s Bro and Brave Sun in the six-horse El Camino, was surprised that Bwana Bull was so far off the pace early in the race.
“I didn’t want to see him that far off the pace but fortunately, he didn’t get trapped and he got the distance.”
Coalinga Kid, the highest price on the board at 62-1, cleared the field before the first turn but was shadowed by 24-1 shot Zoning In, who raced rankly up the backstretch. Coalinga Kid ran the opening half mile in a testing :45.98 before ceding the lead on the far turn.
Baze first asked Bwana Bull for run at the three-eighth pole and continued to advance three wide turning for home. Freesgood took the lead in upper stretch but could not hold off Bwana Bull, who prevailed over Freesgood by one length. Zoning In was another length back in third, finishing 2 1/2 lengths ahead of second choice Court the King.
Baze, who was unable to ride Bwana Bull in the California Derby due to injury, claimed that his mount did not begin to build momentum until he switched leads turning for home.
“I really wasn’t getting the response I expected when I slipped out from behind the leaders. Before we hit the stretch, I busted him left-handed and he switched leads and took off. I knew that, once he started his move, he’d carry it all of the way to the wire,” Baze explained.
Kent Desormeaux, rider of runner-up Freesgood, was confident at the top of the stretch but thought after the race that Freesgood, making his initial start of 2007, might have needed the race.
“I thought I couldn’t lose at the quarter pole. He was moving up with his ears pricked and enjoying life. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t hold off Bwana Bull. He hadn’t run since December and maybe that cost him in the race,” Desormeaux said.
Court the King, who entered the race with a perfect two for two record, trailed the field in the opening half mile and failed to demonstrate the closing kick he employed in his previous races. Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. attributed Court the King’s poor performance to his mount’s inexperience.
“When Court the King started getting dirt in his face, he really started climbing and we lost position on the backstretch. He started making a move going into the turn, but I was already asking him. He just never gave me that run down the stretch that I was expecting,” said Valdivia.
Bwana Bull debuted in May of his 2-year-old season but did not break maiden until his fourth start, which came in October at Bay Meadows. Since that initial win, Bwana Bull has steadily improved with three wins and one second from four starts.
Hollendorfer has not decided where Bwana Bull will race next but is considering the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). He believes that Bwana Bull’s experience will prove to be an asset.
“A lot of horses that win the Kentucky Derby have a lot of races under them,” stated Hollendorfer.
Bwana Bull, who was making his graded stakes debut, earned $110,000 for his El Camino win. His career earnings now stand at $244,962.
Mark DeDomenico, Dan Jelladian, and George Todaro own Bwana Bull, a half brother to grade II winner Bwana Charlie. He was purchased at Keeneland for $140,000. Bred in Kentucky by John R. Penn, Bwana Bull is out of Shalo by Halo.
Jerry Hollendorfer also swept the El Camino Real and California derbies last year with Cause to Believe.