$200,000 Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby (run at one mile and an eighth)
Race 7 at Golden Gate Fields
Saturday, February 18, 2017 (Post time: 3:45 Pacific Standard Time)
Analysis by Matt Dinerman
Ten Kentucky Derby points are awarded to the winner of Northern California’s most prestigious race, The El Camino Real Derby. Racing greats like Bobby Frankel, D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert, Laffit Pincay, Gary Stevens and Mike Smith have won this event, which was first run in 1982.
Let’s dissect the 2017 El Camino Real Derby field.
#1 ZAKAROFF is a son of Slew’s Tiznow that was purchased for just $25,000 as a yearling. After winning his third career start sprinting five and one half furlongs, this Steve Specht trainee stretched out to a route of ground for his debut try against winners. That day, he ran third to #2 More Power To Him, and then finished behind that rival, as well as #6 Colonel Samson, in his most recent start, The California Derby. It looks like he’ll need to pick up the pace to hit the board in this race.
#2 MORE POWER TO HIM finished off the board in the first two starts of his career, which were both sprint races. This colt has significantly improved since racing a route of ground though, so clearly running long is what he wants to do. He broke his maiden at a mile and a sixteenth in career start number three, ran third behind #6 Colonel Samson in the Gold Rush Stakes (while facing winners for the first time), and then rebounded with a sharp win against allowance company. In his most recent race, The California Derby, this guy had the lead in deep stretch but was eventually gunned down late by Southern California three-year-old (and Risen Star Stakes contender) So Conflated. He’s a contender, not a pretender.
#3 ANN ARBOR EDDIE has three wins in four starts. You have to like the fact that the only race he lost was The Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes, a race where he ran third behind Mastery, one of the top three-year-olds on The West Coast. That day he raced seven furlongs too, and since stretching out to a route of ground, this son of Square Eddie has thrived, winning two Cal-Bred Stakes races (The King Glorious Stakes and Cal Cup Derby.) In fact, he beat California Diamond in both stakes, and that rival finished second in the Bob Hope. Now ‘Eddie faces open company again, though there are certainly no Mastery’s in this field. Mario Gutierrez rides for trainer Doug O’Neill and Reddam Racing. They won this race last year with Frank Conversation.
#4 TRIBAL STORM was victorious (and impressive) in his career debut. That day, he sprinted five furlongs on this Golden Gate Fields turf course and won with plenty of verve. The ridgling proved that nice maiden score was no fluke, as he shipped down to Del Mar and went on to win an allowance race on dirt. After taking two months off, he came back to the races and ran third behind #3 Ann Arbor Eddie in The Cal Cup Derby, which was his first start in two months and also his first try going a route of ground. He’ll probably be a little more fit in his second start going long, but I have a feeling he’s best used underneath in exotics, if anywhere.
#5 SHEER FLATTERY is the 7-5 morning line favorite for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has won The El Camino Real Derby a record six times. This guy wheels back in just two weeks after a third place finish in The Robert Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita. He didn’t get the most desirable trip that day, losing plenty of ground on the first turn and making a pretty early move on the backstretch. He tried hard to the wire and only finished a half-length behind the second place finisher, so he ran a better than looked third. This ‘capper thinks he was probably the second best horse in that race. The winner of The Robert Lewis (Royal Mo) would be odds if he were to run in this race, so ‘Flattery faces a little bit easier company here while also making his first start over a synthetic track. By Flatter is out of a Grand Slam mare, Sheer Flattery’s pedigree says he will love going this mile and an eighth distance.
#6 COLONEL SAMSON has the most experience out of anyone in this field. He’s been all over the map too: he ran in Philadelphia and Kentucky early on in his career but broke his maiden at Del Mar, where he defeated #7 Kona Dreams on turf in November. After the maiden triumph, he shipped up to Golden Gate and took home the gold medal in The Gold Rush Stakes. Even though he lost by over 20 lengths in his next start, The Grade 3 Sham Stakes, you can excuse that effort as the race was run over a sloppy track, something ‘The Colonel’ probably didn’t like, and he was also facing some major players on The Kentucky Derby trail (Gormley and American Anthem) that day. He came back to the races in just two weeks after the poor Sham Stakes showing and ran a respectable third behind So Conflated and #3 More Power To Him in The Cal Derby. So, you’re looking at a horse that has run two solid races over this track and now gets a little more time in between races. I could see ‘Samson being competitive once again.
#7 KONA DREAMS, another Southern California shipper, looks to break his maiden in this Grade 3 race. All four career starts for this gelding have come on turf; usually turf runners transfer their form to the synthetics pretty nicely. He only lost by a nose in his career debut in October and finished a length and a half behind #6 Colonel Samson the following month, when that aforementioned rival broke his maiden. #7 Kona Dreams adds blinkers for this race and maybe that’ll help him take a step forward. Sure it’d be a surprise if the maiden won this race, but you have to give Southern California shippers a second look. If he improves and runs a big race, an in-the-money finish wouldn’t be totally crazy…would it?
THE PACE: There is no confirmed front-runner in this race, though a few of the runners signed on here have tactical speed. #3 Ann Arbor Eddie has shown front running speed before; two starts ago he was dueling on the lead in a one-mile race. That said, he has shown the ability to rate, so Mario Gutierrez has options. #4 Tribal Storm was dueling on the lead in a six and a half furlong sprint, though he stalked the pace in his last start, which was a route race. Another one where the rider has options. #7 Kona Dreams will wear blinkers for the first time in this race. Sometimes when horses add ‘the hood’, they show more speed, so maybe he’ll be a little closer than in past starts.
I expect the pace to be contentious but not necessarily fast.
THE CLASS: Shipping up from Southern California and having faced legit stakes company down South, #3 Ann Arbor Eddie and #5 Sheer Flattery look to have the most class in this field. #2 More Power To Him and #6 Colonel Samson have proven they have legit stakes talent too though, and either runner winning this race wouldn’t be a total surprise.
Top Pick: #3 Ann Arbor Eddie- Another nice three-year-old from the O’Neill stable
Second choice: #5 Sheer Flattery- Fits in well with this group. Projected to go off at a low price, so we will try to beat him.
Third choice: #2 More Power To Him- Just getting better with racing experience. Expecting another big effort.
Longshot to consider: #6 Colonel Samson- Two solid efforts over this track
Let’s get lucky!