Horseplayer Now’s Brian Nadeau checks in witha look at today’s Derby prep; he’ll be back later this weekend with analysis of Monday’s Southwest Stakes.
Golden Gate Fields: The Grade III, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Wildcat Moon: Speedster enters off a fine second last month to fellow rival Zeewat in the California Derby, the local prep, and could move forward, as that was his two-turn debut. The issue is this draw, as he’s basically committed to the lead from the inside and there are more than a few others who have some early gas as well, meaning he’s going to have to run hard early and often; proves vulnerable late.
#2 Rush In: Improving sort just missed in a local two-turn optional claimer when he battled on the lead through dawdling splits only to come up a half-length short, but he will have to do much better to threaten here. The good news is that he’s lightly raced and seems to like the local surface, though this appears far too tough a task for him at this point; needs softer to threaten.
#3 Counting Days: Southern California invader tries two turns on the main track for the first time, and while he looks like a huge longshot on paper, it’s not like Gaines to throw a horse to the wolves, so he at least merits a second look. Tactical runner wasn’t beaten much in his lone two-turn try (albeit on turf) when he finished behind useful 3yo Den’s Legacy in the GIII Generous at Hollywood Park, so maybe this return to a route could wake him up; could be the right bomber in your exotics.
#4 Manando: Baffert colt heads north after setting the pace and finishing a game third to hotshot Goldencents in Santa Anita’s GIII Sham last month and may prove the one to catch in this softer spot. Beautifully bred son of Bluegrass Cat has looked like a new horse since he was able to stretch his legs going two turns two starts ago, owns a route win over HP’s synthetic surface, meets no one of any real consequence here, and figures a handful from on or just off the early pace; imposing.
#5 Zeewat: The aforementioned California Derby winner is perfect in two local two-turn starts since adding blinkers, so you have to believe he’s the best hope fore the Northerners today. Versatile runner has the ability to press a slow pace or sit off of it if the splits heat up, so expecting local legend Baze to gauge what Manando does early and act accordingly, which isn’t a bad spot to be in considering he drew outside that favorite. On paper he’s not quite fast enough to beat the chalk, but you know what they say about the “horse for the course” angle; not an impossible task.
#6 Nina’s Dragon: Lightly raced son of young sire Tizbud was a good third behind ‘Rush in the optional claimer here last month and that was his two-turn debut as well, so there’s some upside in this corner. Homebred is another who has proven versatile in his young career, so should sit the right kind of trip, though anything other than a minor award would be a surprise; tabbing for down the road.
#7 North Pacific: Recent local MSW sprint graduate has been beaten up pretty badly in both his two-turn starts and has the look of a rank outsider in this graded stakes. If you want to stretch a bit, you can say he wasn’t beaten much by ‘Nina’s two starts back, but that was sprinting and even so, that colt isn’t really one of the ones in here anyway; easy toss.
#8 Carving: The second of the Baffert runners has some spotty form but does own a stakes win in the Real Quiet at HP in November, though he hasn’t been seen since a weak sixth there in the GI CashCall in December. On paper he should sit a nice trip just off the speed, which will have him in an enviable position off the far turn, although he could be a race away from his best; using underneath.
#9 Dice Flavor: Santa Anita invader makes his main track debut after a quartet of turf races that really didn’t inspire, so he has his work cut out for him here. Son of Scat Daddy has a license to handle this strip, but at this point he’s biting off way more than he can chew; not seeing it.