Uncle Denny throws his hat into the Derby ring with El Camino win.

Uncle Denny throws his hat into the Derby ring with El Camino win.

Bay Meadows photo

Baze Finds Favorite Uncle in El Camino Real

Stan E. Fulton's favored Uncle Denny surged to the front on the home turn and won drawing off for jockey Russell Baze, capturing Saturday's $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows.

In winning his first graded stakes, the California-bred Uncle Denny captured Northern California's leading race for 3-year-olds prior to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) by 2 1/4 lengths over Wannawinemall, who nosed Buzzards Bay for the runner-up spot. The time for the 1 1/16-mile event was 1:42 1/5 on a fast track.

Uncle Denny pressured the early leader Vasilias while racing between horses through solid fractions of :22 3/5 and :45 3/5 before forging to the lead on the far turn. He was well clear by the eighth pole and won in a drive for Baze over the gradually closing Wannawinemall, who had only broken his maiden in his last start for Southern California trainer Kristin Mulhall.

"This horse can really run," said Baze, who rode Uncle Denny for the first time Saturday. "I knew we were going fast but he was doing well underneath me. They told me he had a lot of speed but don't try to take a hold of him because last time he lugged out on the first turn.

"I let him run the way he wanted to," added Baze. "He seemed very relaxed and wasn't bothered by the horses coming to him. I kind of shook him up at the quarter pole and away he went. He actually ran off with me after the race."

Wannawinemall was five wide coming off the turn for jockey Mike Smith but gaining steadily.

Buzzards Bay, ridden by Mark Guidry, rallied gamely while also extremely wide on the turn but, after looking like a threat to catch the leader, flattened out in the home stretch.

Rafael Becerra trains the winning bay In Excess colt, who is not nominated to the Triple Crown. Uncle Denny won for the fourth time in five starts while banking $244,913. His only loss came in his previous start when fourth behind the winning Going Wild in the Sham at Santa Anita Feb. 5. Uncle Denny's previous victories included one stakes triumph, which came in the California Breeders' Champions Dec. 26 also at Santa Anita.

After the race, Becerra indicated that he expected the owner to nominate Uncle Denny to the Triple Crown.

"Right now we will give him a couple of days and see how he comes out of the race," said Becerra, who is based at Santa Anita.  "I don't know whether we will stay at home (for the Santa Anita Derby on April 9) or go out of town.  After the way he ran today, I imagine we have to think about the Kentucky Derby."

Bred by Mr. and Mrs. W.M. Siemon, Uncle Denny was purchased for $140,000 at auction as a yearling in August 2003. He is from the His Majesty mare Gift to the World.

Stellar Magic, the San Mateo Mile winner who was a narrow 2-1 second choice behind the winner, advanced on the turn after settling toward the rear for most of the journey. He was forced to steady off heels near the quarter pole and could not rally, finishing last of ten.

"At about the quarter pole I went for a hole and right when I did Tammi (jockey Piermarini, aboard Customer) hit her horse right handed and they came over and annihilated us," said jockey Dennis Carr, who rode Stellar Magic. "At this point, I just hope the horse is OK."

Uncle Denny paid $6.20, $3.80 and $3.20 as the slight choice over Stellar Magic. Wannawinemall returned $4.80 and $4.40. Buzzards Bay, who rebounded from a 10th-place showing in the Risen Star (gr. III) at Fair Grounds in his last start Feb. 12 for trainer Jeff Mullins, was $6.40 to show.

Customer, Sharp Writer, Big Top Cat, Stormin Away, Vasilias, Wind Water and Stellar Magic followed them.

(Chart, Equibase)