Lopez took over on Bwana Bull, a son of Holy Bull out of the Halo mare Shahalo, after Russell Baze suffered a cracked rib when he was thrown in a four-horse spill in the race preceding the Cal Derby.
But the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Bwana Bull was never in trouble in the 1 1/16-mile event, winning by five lengths. The same could not be said for the second-place finisher Boutrous, the even-money favorite. Boutrous was rallying along the inside on the far turn as Bwana Bull challenged for the lead. But Boutrous, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, ran into traffic approaching the quarter pole as the tiring front-runners Double Action and Candy's Bro began to back up. As Bwana Bull took control, Boutrous was forced to check and wait for room, eventually getting through mid-stretch. However, the winner was firmly in command at that point and kept to the task all the way to the wire. The final time was 1:44 3/5.
Double Action, racing four or five paths off the rail all the way through the clubhouse turn, led the six-horse field through quick fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 3/5 before Candy's Bro wrested the advantage after completing six furlongs in 1:12. Bwana Bull settled in third, about five to six lengths behind the pace but was quickly in front after being sent up on the outside by Lopez.
Bwana Bull took four starts to break his maiden in Northern California for owners Mark De Domenico, Dan Jelladian, and Jerry Todaro, finally doing so at Bay Meadows when stretched out to a mile for the first time Oct. 25. The chestnut colt ran second in his first start against allowance foes before taking a first-level allowance at one mile by four lengths in his previous start Dec. 29. Baze was aboard for both of the victories. Overall, Bwana Bull has a record of 3-2-1 in seven starts, bumping his earnings to $134,962 with Sunday's winning share of $82,500.
Hollendorfer said Bwana Bull has more to overcome to be placed on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trail.
"Horses that win the California Derby always get considered, but you have to keep proving yourself," he said. "The El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) fits pretty well for his next start, but I'll consult the other owners. If you want to go to the Derby, you gotta try now. May comes pretty quick."
The El Camino Real Derby is March 10 at Bay Meadows.
John R. Penn bred Bwana Bull, a $140,000 yearling buy at Keeneland in September 2005, in Kentucky.
The second choice, Bwana Bull paid $6.60, $3, and $2.20. Boutrous, who won his last two starts in impressive late-running style for trainer Craig Dollase on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track, returned $2.20 and $2.10 in his stakes debut. Another Southern Cal shipper, Chief's Magic, was 9 1/2 lengths behind the winner in third with Martin Garcia riding for trainer Bob Baffert. He paid $2.60.
Candy's Bro finished fourth, followed by Double Action and Cover Magic.