El Camino Real winner Cause to Believe should be a serious contender on the Derby trail.

El Camino Real winner Cause to Believe should be a serious contender on the Derby trail.

Bay Meadows

Kentucky Derby Trail: Believe in the Cause

Several of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) preps fell apart last weekend, and the Southern California invaders got hammered by the boys up North in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III), but we did see an honest, classy colt in Cause to Believe, and there was plenty of other news on the Derby trail.

Before anything, however, comes a challenge to all those who want to get a major blast of Derby fever, either now or a couple of months from now. It's not going to be easy, but if you failed to catch the documentary "Race to the Derby" that aired last summer on the Discovery Times channel, see if you can somehow track it down. It's as well done a racing documentary as I've ever seen, yet it only aired once and disappeared.

The documentary follows jockeys Mike Smith, Mark Guidry, and Jon Court - and to a lesser degree, Kent Desormeaux - starting in January on their quest for a Derby mount and the ensuing journey to Louisville. The producers fortuitously selected not only the Derby-winning jockey, but the riders who finished one-two in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) aboard big longshots. It is beautifully filmed, brilliantly edited, and will raise more than its share of goosebumps.

The main attraction last weekend, as mentioned, was the El Camino Real Derby, which again saw A.P. Warrior self destruct. It seems apparent this colt resents restraint, and in his last two starts he was stoutly restrained, fighting the rider early. Many times, when a horse fights his jockey he will sulk when it is time to run or just exhausts too much energy. Whatever the case with A.P. Warrior, he has not been a happy horse and has thrown in too many clunkers to be considered a top Derby candidate any longer. If trainer Eoin Harty can figure something out fast, he still could get him straightened out in time.

The winner, Cause to Believe, is one of those horses you'd love to have in your barn. He's all heart and is as consistent as they come. You don't see many horses boasting a record of eight starts, five wins and three seconds at six different distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. He did get a ground-saving ride, but came through a tight spot in the upper stretch, and when you can come home in :23 3/5, :24 1/5, and :06 3/5, that's serious running. And his final sixteenth would have been faster, and he would have won by a bigger margin than three-quarters of a length, had he not jumped over to his left lead and briefly lost his action when Russell Baze cracked him right-handed with the whip.

Baze said he was spooked by a set of tire tracks, but he actually had cleared those tracks while still on his right lead, and was in the process of drawing away. When Baze hit him, he threw his ears up and awkwardly switched back to his left lead, while giving a quick and subtle flick of his tail, as if he resented being hit at that point.

Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Cause to Believe is by Maria's Mon out of a Storm Cat mare, so he's got some potent bloodlines to back up his record. He can win from anywhere on the track and should be a force on the Derby trail.

Also, last weekend, the long-awaited return of Music School was put on hold when the son of A.P. Indy was scratched from a six-furlong allowance race at Oaklawn due to a sloppy track. Meanwhile, trainer Neil Howard found another Derby hopeful when Brilliant, a son of War Chant, scored by three lengths in a mile allowance race. Howard had been thinking grass for the colt, but now will give him his chance on the Derby trail.

Another promising colt, Doc Cheney, could do no better than third as the 3-2 favorite in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs after being stuck in traffic and then coming up empty in the stretch. The winner, R Loyal Man, a son of More Than Ready , is on quite a roll, scoring his third straight easy victory. In his only start around two turns, however, he tired badly in the Foolish Pleasure Breeders' Cup at Calder after setting the early pace.

The Sunshine Millions Dash should have no bearing on the Derby picture, as the brilliant winner, Da Stoops, will be kept short by Bob Baffert, who has several other horses he's pointing for the Derby. Baffert also has taken his impressive 2-year-old Enforcement off the Derby trail, and in fact did not even nominate him in order to make sure the colt will be given the time he needs to return to his full potential.

Two maidens drop out of the clouds
Although they'll be playing the now famous "Beat Apollo" game (not having raced at age two), Really Indian and Scanlon's Song both won their career debuts going a distance with monster moves from far back. Really Indian, a son of A.P. Indy, could give Neil Drysdale a second weapon along with Your Tent or Mine. In a one-mile maiden race at Santa Anita, he came from way out of it, flying by horses along the inside on the far turn. After swinging out for the stretch drive, he inhaled the two battling leaders, Three Points and Overland Trail, and drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths while being taken in hand the final 100 yards. Granted, the race was set up for him and the final quarter wasn't particularly quick, but he did it with style. He had been entered twice and scratched due to a minor foot problem and a fever, but is now ready to make a name for himself.

Scanlon's Song came from even farther back in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Aqueduct. At the quarter pole, the son of the Danzig stallion Partner's Hero was over a dozen lengths back and at least six-wide. He was still 6 1/2 lengths back at the eighth pole, but not only did he make up that margin on a horse who looked to be on his way to an easy victory, he blew right by him to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Trained by Jennifer Pedersen, who also has Count Fleet winner Achilles of Troy heading for the Whirlaway Stakes, Scanlon's Song did everything the right way, changing leads smoothly and coming home in fast time.

Big names show up on work tab
Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) and Belmont Futurity (gr. II) winner Private Vow had his first work of the year, breezing a half in :51 for trainer Steve Asmussen. Also on the work tab this week was Arlington Futurity (gr. II) winner Sorcerer's Stone, who breezed three furlongs in :36 4/5 at Gulfstream, his first work since sustaining an injury in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), his first career defeat. One horse who seems on track to returning to his old form is Cradle Stakes (gr. III) winner Laity, who worked a sharp seven furlongs in 1:27.

In other Derby trail news:
-- Keep an eye on Thursday's 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream, which features the promising maiden winners Corinthian, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, and Throng, from the powerful Todd Pletcher arsenal. A victory by either one would put them right in the thick of the Derby trail. Both look to be classy, professional colts.

-- Bob Baffert is looking for a huge effort from Royal Legacy in a maiden race on Friday. The son of Monarchos actually ran a big race to finish second to stablemate Point Determined last time out, despite becoming very rank and dragging jockey Victor Espinoza to the lead on the first turn. He's been working brilliantly since and Baffert will take the blinkers off. If he wins big, you'll be hearing a lot of buzz on him. The following day, Baffert will saddle Bob and John in the Sham Stakes.

-- Baffert also has an interesting 3-year-old in Sky Diving, owned by B. Wayne Hughes. Following three defeats, the son of Aptitude added blinkers, was put on the lead, and responded by destroying his field by 14 lengths going a mile at Bay Meadows.

-- Bobby Frankel said he's not going to push his promising colt, Latent Heat, to make the Derby after the son of Maria's Mon broke his maiden impressively going seven furlongs. In both his starts, he's received huge Sheets numbers. Frankel said he'll look for a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at the end of February and see where he stands after that.