Golden Gate Fields: The Grade III, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 10-4-2-1)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Donji (30-1): Gigantic longshot gets the coveted inside post and will save all the ground, but that’s quickly where any positives end, as he’s still a maiden after seven starts and has never even run in MSW company, let alone a stakes race. Son of Big Brown goes off the claim for Gonzalez, who is just 2 for 36 on the year, so even though a change of scenery from Southern California may help, it’s not like he’s going into a high-powered barn with proven success. You can applaud the ambition here, and it’s not like this is an overly tough group, but this gelding is just way out of his element; get home safely.
#2 Indianaughty (4-1): Well-traveled runner invades from Gulfstream Park for Romans after winning his US debut in a grassy optional claimer, which marked his first start since a romping all-weather win at Lingfield in August to close out his 2-year-old campaign. Indian Charlie colt certainly seems long on talent, and you have to think Team Valor had this (and Turfway Park’s Spiral in March) on the schedule all along; it’s not hard to make comparisons to their Derby winner Animal Kingdom a few years back, as he did the same turf-to-synthetic-to-Derby move. And while saying this guy is as good as that superstar is pure folly at this point, there’s no doubt that there are a lot of similarities, and the gut says we haven’t seen anywhere near his best yet; look out.
#3 Metaboss (8-1): Bonde charge heads north off a sharp Santa Anita turf score to break his maiden and picks a logical spot to try winners for the first time, as turf runners often transfer their form to the Tapeta. Son of Street Boss has a nice stalking style that usually plays well in these types of events, and he showed last time that he can come home quickly, as he finished his last eighth of a mile in about 11 3/5, which is flying, especially when you consider that win came at today’s distance of 9 furlongs. On paper he’s one of several in here looking to prove he belongs with a group like this, but when that’s the case, it’s also more than likely that a new shooter will be the one stepping up to claim one of the top prizes; figures to make his presence felt.
#4 Ernest Shackleton (Ire) (12-1): The second European transplant was thrown to the wolves in his US debut when seventh behind fellow rival Soul Driver in Santa Anita’s Eddie Logan in December but rebounded nicely in his last, when winning an optional claimer going a mile over the turf there in January. Son of Irish-bred Duke of Marmalade has run six times on the turf to start his career but is another who figures to handle the transition to the Tapeta today for O’Neill, who has shown over the past several years that he knows how to campaign a classy 3-year-old. Now, whether this colt is one of those remains to be seen, but if nothing else, he showed last time that he’s going the right way and that he’s acclimated to this country, too, so at a nice price you could do worse than taking a shot here; not impossible for a piece.
#5 Cross the Line (5-1): The first of three from local legend Hollendorfer won the track’s prep, the California Derby, last time and will garner plenty of support off that run, which was his second straight since being stretched to two turns. Son of Line of David has a nice blend of tactical speed and stamina, and considering that dad won the Arkansas Derby a few years back, you have to think today’s nine furlongs are well within his scope. But with the good comes the bad, and that’s the fact that there are some viable new shooters today who have as much, if not more, talent, and also this colt really has never run fast in his life, so he’s no doubt going to have to improve today if he wants to net a hat trick. So sure, he may be at the top of the local mountain, but climbing this peak today might pose a bigger challenge than the toteboard lets on; playing against.
#6 Harmonic (20-1): Hollendorfer’s second has been slowly putting things together, and that culminated with a track and distance MSW win last time, which immediately makes you take notice, as he’s the only member of the field to race at today’s nine furlongs on the main track. Beautifully bred son of Congrats has the look of a horse that has turned the corner, which is something we see from these early season 3-year-olds time and again, and when that’s the case, you can almost throw out their form, as they’re liable to improve by open lengths from one start to the next. On paper this is a decent class rise, and he’s never run near fast enough to make a dent in a spot like this, but anyone who saw the way he closed in the lane last time knows that the King is far from outgunned with this colt; thinking he outruns his odds.
#7 Soul Driver (6-1): Hard-knocker handily beat ‘Shackleton in the Eddie Logan, then was a good second as the favorite to ‘Line in the California Derby, so if nothing else, you know he belongs with a group like this. His detractors will protest that he’s also just 1 for 5 and that his lone win came by a head in October, which means that taking another short price today isn’t all that appealing. The good news is that the newcomers will ensure that that 2-1 last time will be considerably higher in here, and having a race over the track should give him the right kind of primer to improve today, which would be a good idea, as he’s no doubt going to have to run faster to win this. Son of Street Boss has shown he’s got the class to compete here, but until he shows he’s got the stretch stamina to win a race like this, we’ll limit his use to a minor award; underneath, if at all.
#8 Stand and Salute (6-1): The last of the Hollendorfer trio closed nicely in the lane to be third in the California Derby and would have been a lot closer if that 1 1/16-miles tilt was at today’s distance, so he may be the most intriguing of the top-3 who exit that heat. Saint Anddan homebred has shown an affinity for the local course, as he did post a pair of two-turn wins prior to the California Derby, including the Gold Rush, and it’s nice to know that his speed figures have improved substantially since he took his game north in October. Of course, there’s also no denying that he was third to a pair of runners who aren’t at the top of this food chain today, which puts him in a tricky spot, as he’ll have to improve for the fourth time in a row, which means regression is every bit as likely as a forward mood; mixed signals in this corner.
#9 Conquest Typhoon (7-2): The likely favorite got no help from the draw as he makes his seasonal debut, but he showed countless times in his 2-year-old campaign that he’s full of class and doesn’t need his own racing luck to get to the wire first. Casse charge was awesome breaking his maiden in Woodbine’s grassy Summer (GII) in September and parlayed that to a very solid fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita before finishing his campaign with a closing win in Del Mar’s Cecile B. DeMille (GIII) in November. In between the Summer and the Breeders’ Cup, this son of Stormy Atlantic was second in Woodbine’s Grey (GIII) over the Polytrack, so you know he doesn’t mind the fake stuff, which sets him up nicely for this jumping off point today, as does that string of wicked works over the Santa Anita main track since the New Year; figures to take some beating.
#10 Mischief Clem (9-2): The wildcard picks an odd spot to return to the synthetic, as he was last seen winning the California Cup Derby in January over fellow state-breds on the main track at Santa Anita—in fast time too—so you have to think Hess knows he’ll handle the local strip. And, judging by his romping debut win over Del Mar’s Polytrack in September, you can make a case for him running well here, though this group is nothing like the modest state-breds he drilled that day. Son of Papa Clem lures Desormeaux to make the trip north and seemingly has the speed to negate this wide draw, and you could even see him loose on the lead if a send mission is in order, as there’s not a ton of other true gate speed signed on–though time and again we’ve seen these synthetic events turn into turf dashes in the lane—no matter how slow they go early—which wouldn’t bode well for this one’s chances, which were middling at best to begin with; making him prove it.
#9 Conquest Typhoon