Saturday, the $100,000 California Derby will be center stage at Golden Gate Fields. Seven three-year-olds will walk up to the starting gate, with Kentucky Derby hopes at least somewhere in the minds of their connections.
Yes you heard right. Seven horses. Seven.
The California Derby used to be race that put the bay area track on the map. I remember going to the track as a kid for this race. Standing room only. Celebrities abound. It was memorable.
I’m not kidding about the celebrities either. In 1976, Telly Savalas of "Kojak" fame was on hand to watch his horse Telly’s Pop beat long shot Classy Surgeon. Longtime film and tv star Jack Klugman was on hand in 1980 to witness his horse, Jaklin Klugman, run down local favorite Doonesbury, to win by a head. Oh those were the days.
But as fate would have it, when Bay Meadows closed in 2008, the track’s signature race, the El Camino Real Derby, moved over to GGF and the Cal Derby became a stepping stone instead of a premiere event. In recent years, winning the Cal Derby has meant different things to its champions.
Last year, Russian Greek charged down the lane to beat 29-1 long shot Cahill Chrome in another seven horse field. Russian Greek hasn’t won a race since, running 5th in the El Camino and down the track in the Vinery Spiral Stakes and the Blue Grass Stakes.
In 2010, Ranger Heartley, from the John Sadler barn, won only an allowance race and a claiming event in the nine races following his win. However, that’s two more wins than 2008 winner Yankee Bravo had, as he went 0-for-17 after his win.
There has been some success in recent years as 2009 winner Chocolate Candy ran second in the Santa Anita Derby and 5th in the Kentucky Derby after his win and perhaps the best run came in 2011 by the William E. Morey trained Positive Response.
Response had the bay area buzzing after running third in the El Camino before shipping to Turfway Park and winning the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. His possible road to the derby though came to an end with an 8th place finish in the Vinery Spiral Stakes, a race he was the even money favorite. Of course you probably remember that race was won by eventual Kentucky Derby champion, Animal Kingdom. So now here we are in 2013, and the field is, well, suspect to say the least.
The favorite will be Zeewat (pictured above) featuring the Jerry Hollendorfer-Russell Baze connection. Zeewat will be the solid choice based on his easy win in the Gold Rush Stakes last month and his 3 wins in 5 start record. Craig Dollase’s Tree of Life also figures to get bet, based on his fifth place finish in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes, a race he lost by only 3 lengths.He also won the $100,000 Barretts Juvenile Stakes at Fairflex this summer.
Another Southern California shipper, Will True Up, will represent the Peter Miller barn and local trainers Jeff Bonde (Wildcat Moon), Joe Brook (Condiment), Genaro Vallejo (Butterfly Soul) and William E. Morey (My Best Bet) also take their chances at the top prize.
The best stories that can come out of this race?
Well, Butterfly Soul is a filly taking on the boys, Condiment has never crossed the line first (winning only by disqualification) but has run second to Zeewat (twice), My Best Bet, Wildcat Moon and Cash Call Futurity runner up Fury Kapcori. And If Wildcat Moon wins, it will be on his first race over six furlongs.
The top California Derby finishers will be in line for a shot at the El Camino Real Derby in February, a race that awards 10 points to the winner for the new point system used this year to determine Kentucky Derby entrants.
Apprentice Makes GGF Debut
Apprentice jockey Jose Luis Delgadillo will make his first start at GGF on Saturday as his bid for his first career win begins, basically where he grew up.
The son of veteran rider Agapito Delgadillo, Jose was around GGF as a kid when his dad rode here. He also galloped horses before moving down south last year. Jose started his career at Portland Meadows last month with 3 seconds and 1 third in 19 starts.