The $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields offers 17 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but connections of the lone filly entered in the Feb. 17 test have designs of their own.
Paved, who appears to be on an exciting path after she posted an impressive maiden victory in her third start—a 1 1/8-mile turf race Jan. 6 at Santa Anita Park—will undergo a sterner test Saturday, when she faces males at the same distance and tries the Tapeta surface in the El Camino, a race her team hopes will serve as a stepping stone to major turf stakes.
Joe Ciaglia, who has owned Thoroughbreds for almost 20 years, occasionally dabbles in pinhooking and bought the filly for $130,000 from the Lane's End consignment to Keeneland's 2016 September yearling sale. Although Ciaglia made a profit when Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners picked her up for $320,000 through Hoppel's Horse and Cattle Co. at the Ocala Breeders' Sales' March sale of 2-year-olds in training, Ciaglia decided not to fully part with the bay daughter of Quality Road .
"I really fell in love with her," Ciaglia said. "She went for a pretty good amount of money, but the Eclipse guys walked in and I said, 'I really like this horse. Can I stay in on the horse?' I don't like to sell. I really like my horses, so when people ask me to sell my horse I almost always stay in. I really enjoy racing."
It was the first time Ciaglia and Eclipse partnered on a horse, but it was a natural pairing.
"We were going to race the filly in California if we bought her," said Aron Wellman, president of Eclipse. "California is where Joe primarily races his horses, so it was a really nice fit. We saw eye to eye on the path we were going to take."
Trained by Michael McCarthy, Paved is the 2-1 second choice on the El Camino morning line, and will break from the inside with jockey Drayden Van Dyke in the irons. Only three fillies have competed in the El Camino in the race's 36-year history: Cara Rafaela, fourth in 1996; Wildwood Flower, fifth in 2004; and Lady of Fifty, sixth in 2012.
"It's a big step up taking on the boys, switching surfaces, and shipping out of town, but it's good spacing to the Providencia (G3T) in April," said McCarthy, who saddled 2010 El Camino Real Derby winner Connemara while he was an assistant to Todd Pletcher. "There was an allowance race here (at Santa Anita) earlier this month, but it would have been two months to the Providencia. (The El Camino) gives us a couple more weeks to put a little more foundation, a little more seasoning into her. Ultimately we're trying to take a step forward here, moving onto the Providencia. And then, hopefully, that could send us to Keeneland and to Belmont, so we're very excited about the coming months with her."
Since he claimed his first horse in 1999, Ciaglia has had many different partners, including actor and television director Frank Alesia and later Alesia's widow, Sharon; Mike Mellen of Bran Jam Stable; and professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek.
Through these different partnerships Ciaglia campaigned 2014 champion 2-year-old filly Champagne Room, grade 1 winners Weemissfrankie and Dance With Fate, and five-time graded stakes-winning homebred Ashleyluvssugar. Dance With Fate finished second in the 2014 El Camino Real Derby before he went on to win the Toyota Blue Grass (G1).
"It's hard to be in a place financially where you can spend $200,000 (or) $300,000 on a horse," Ciaglia said. "By spreading that out in a partnership, not only are you limiting your risk, but also getting the ability to buy something you can't buy (on your own). I go to the sales with (bloodstock adviser) Larry Zap and we'll buy horses. We usually have a group of people who are interested. Rather than taking money and then purchasing a horse, we purchase a horse and then give the partners an opportunity to buy the horses they want to buy into."
Ciaglia frequently attended Santa Anita during his youth, while he worked at a Ralph's grocery store in Arcadia, Calif. He later went to work for A-1 Carpet Care before he started his own cleaning business. From there he founded California Landscape & Design and the skateboarding course design companies California Skateparks and California Rampworks.
"I started out in landscaping, then I decided I wanted to do swimming pools. And then I started with skateparks. I've done a lot of work for skateboarders and TV stars," he said. "I've even done a lot of work for people in horse racing. Corey Nakatani—I've done a couple of his houses. I've done work for Rafael Bejarano and Peter Eurton. What motivates me are challenges and opportunities. We like to be creative and do quality work. It's the same thing in horse racing—the challenge of trying to get a great horse. Not that we can control that, but I like things that are challenging."
Ciaglia and Zap focus on physical traits over pedigree when looking for racing prospects, and aren't afraid to buy horses whose pedigree and conformation suggest they might be best suited for turf.
"We like horses that are a little scopey—two-turns style," Ciaglia said. "There are a lot of people who like to buy Kentucky Derby horses—dirt horses. Most of my good horses have been turf horses or could run on (synthetic) tracks. We always thought Champagne Room could be a turf horse. We just never had the chance to try her on the turf."
Wellman sees parallels between Paved and Illuminant, another daughter of Quality Road purchased by Eclipse at the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2014 selected sale of 2-year-olds in training. Illuminant broke her maiden in her fifth start before she won the 2016 Gamely Stakes (G1T) and 2017 Monrovia Stakes (G2T) on the turf for McCarthy, and Wellman hopes Paved can emulate Illuminant and improve with age.
"We want to keep her fresh and keep her at distances that are appropriate for her," the owner said. "We have long-term goals for this filly. As far as 3-year-old turf fillies are concerned, the major races don't come until the second half of the year. It's really important that we develop her properly and are methodical about the races we choose, so come the second half of the year, she will have a lot of gas left in the tank."
Paved, bred by St. George Farm out of the Cozzene mare Sirmione, began her career with third-place finishes in one-mile races at Santa Anita and Del Mar in the fall. Stretched out an extra furlong for her 3-year-old debut, she rallied from seventh and powered clear in the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths.
"For her second start we were lucky enough to have Johnny Velazquez (ride her)," McCarthy said. "It was kind of a strange trip that day. She kind of came off the bridle going around the turn, and then put in a big run from the three-sixteenths pole to the wire and galloped out really, really strong. Johnny thought a little bit bigger blinker might help. We went ahead and put that blinker on in her third start, and you saw the results. It was a very impressive performance, and she has carried that over into the morning."
Despite these reasons for optimism, Ciaglia knows the surface switch and male competition will be formidable challenges for Paved and will remain bullish on his filly regardless of how she fares Saturday at Golden Gate.
"Our long-term goals are races like the Del Mar Oaks (G1T) and Queen Elizabeth (G1T)," Ciaglia said. "I kind of feel like she's already where she needs to be. She has a good turn of foot (and) she can get the distance. The distance is kind of our key. The outcome of (the El Camino) isn't going to change how we feel."
Golden Gate Fields, Saturday, February 17, 2018, Race 7
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Paved (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 117 Michael W. McCarthy 2/1 2 2Blended Citizen (KY) Kyle Frey 122 Doug F. O'Neill 4/1 3 3Could Be the One (CA) William Antongeorgi III 122 Jack Steiner 12/1 4 4Choo Choo (KY) Juan J. Hernandez 122 Jerry Hollendorfer 9/5 5 5City Plan (KY) Tyler Conner 122 Eoin G. Harty 15/1 6 6Calexman (KY) Alonso Quinonez 122 Vladimir Cerin 20/1 7 7Epical (KY) Tiago Josue Pereira 122 James M. Cassidy 10/1 8 8Unlawful Act (KY) Cristobal Herrera 122 Matthew A. Troy 30/1 9 9Mugaritz (KY) Mario Gutierrez 122 Jonathan Wong 10/1
Golden Gate Fields, Saturday, February 17, 2018, Race 7