Video: El Camino Real Derby (G3)
Off at 48-1, the Slew's Tiznow gelding appeared to be full of run in the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile test on Golden Gate's synthetic main track, but had nowhere to go.
Traveling on the rail in sixth heading into the final turn, Zakaroff faced a wall of three horses just ahead of him, and had no way out with two horses boxing him in to his outside.
But as the field turned for home, the complexion of the race changed entirely. The bunched-up group scattered and jockey Kyle Frey deftly found a path into the clear on the outside in the stretch, and the duo wore down favored Ann Arbor Eddie to win by a half-length.
"Normally you might be (concerned about being boxed in), but my horse was completely relaxed and in hand," Frey said. "It did get a little bit shaky coming out of that final turn, but luckily we were able to muscle out and get a clean trip outside."
Ann Arbor Eddie, who went off at even money following back-to-back California-bred stakes wins in Southern California, was disqualified to fourth after the finish for interfering with Tribal Storm in the stretch. More Power to Him was elevated to second and Tribal Storm moved up to third. The top three finishers are not currently nominated for the Triple Crown, so the points for the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings earned for placing in the El Camino Real Derby do not apply to them unless their connections choose to nominate.
Ann Arbor Eddie ran the first quarter Saturday in :23.95, but Tribal Storm took the lead after a half in :49.03 as the favorite seemed content to hold his position on the rail. Zakaroff broke well from post 1 but settled into a stalking position, as others took the initiative heading into the first turn. Tribal Storm still had a head in front through six furlongs in 1:13.96, but the stretch run was ruled by Zakaroff, who hit the wire in 1:51.34.
The win not only provided Zakaroff his first stakes win, but also gave Slew's Tiznow his first black-type victory as a sire and Metaxas his first stakes win as an owner. It was the fourth graded win for trainer Steve Specht and his first since 2008, when McCann's Mojave won the Berkeley Stakes (G3), also at Golden Gate. It was also the first graded win for Frey, the champion apprentice jockey of 2011.
Zakaroff was a longshot because he finished behind other El Camino Real Derby runners in his last two starts, but he was far from noncompetitive in those tries. He came in fifth behind More Power to Him and Colonel Samsen in the California Derby last time out Jan. 21, but was only four lengths behind winner So Conflated. Prior to that start, he finished third—1 1/4 lengths behind winner More Power to Him—in a Golden Gate allowance Dec. 31.
"They didn't give me much credit, even though I didn't finish that far behind some of these horses the last two times," Specht said. "I really thought this race was too far, that one mile or (1 1/16 miles) was his limit. When he got to the stretch, he showed a little extra that I didn't think he had. I actually entered him in a first-level allowance sprint, but the race didn't go, so I got stuck running here. Not a bad stick. I wasn't out of my league, but somebody has to be favored and somebody has to not be."
Bred in Kentucky by Eagle Ridge Racing out of the Mr. Greeley mare Grand Advice, Zakaroff now has a 2-1-1 record from six starts and earnings of $148,120. The bay gelding was a $25,000 purchase at the Barretts October yearling sale in 2015.