Though the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields doesn’t offer any points toward making the gate for the Kentucky Derby (GI), it has served as a prep for the El Camino Real Derby (GIII), as well as many of the main Derby preps for 3-year-old events held down south at Santa Anita. In 2009, Chocolate Candy won this race before the El Camino Real Derby and then, subsequently, a fifth-place finish in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
Though the rain in Northern California will continue, the all-weather Tapeta surface aimed at preventing an “off track” will be tested by the eight sophomores who will race the 1 1/16 miles for the lion’s share of the $100,000 pot.
Former claimer Vending Machine, who hails from the hot stable of Peter Miller, returns off a win in the grassy Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita last out, but he is a winner on the dirt as well, having broken his maiden at a mile at Santa Anita wearing a $50,000 tag in October. Kent Desormeaux, who was aboard for the son of Hard Spun’s one-mile allowance win in November, returns to ride and ships in to Golden Gate as well, indicating his faith in the handsome chestnut. He’s a pace stalker, so a clean trip may be all he needs to get the job done with a decent pace in front.
More Power To Him has two wins and a third from five starts here, including a nice allowance win at a mile on New Year’s Eve. His connections (trainer Faith Taylor and owner Bret Mason) are a little more low profile, but this is a good horse whose best makes him a serious threat for the win. He’s training well and his numbers show he may be the most talented in the field. Expect him to sit off the pace under jockey Alejandro Gomez and make his move toward the lead as he hits the top of the stretch.
Colonel Samsen won the Gold Rush Stakes here before faltering against tough company in the Sham Stakes (GIII) down south last out. The Eoin Harty-trained son of Colonel John broke his maiden on the turf and appears to be headed for a grass career, but since he’s already proven over this Tapeta surface, this is a good spot to test the shark-infested Derby waters he’d face if he moved in that direction. Local rider Ricardo Gonzalez will be aboard the bay gelding.
Secret House broke his maiden back in May and then raced four times in stakes company without a win (including the Frontrunner Stakes [G1] where he was declared a non-starter after dropping his rider at the break) and was then wisely placed back into allowance company last out where he showed spark again to finish second. His best gives him a shot to earn a win under local rider Julien Couton.
Sonneteer is a maiden who owns some impressive connections in owner Calumet Farm and trainer Keith Desormeaux. His last, a second in allowance company, was a huge effort and worthy of consideration for a stakes even though he has yet to have his picture taken after racing five times. He’s got a tremendous pedigree (his dam is a half-sister to grade 1 winner Dublin as she is a daughter of grade 1 winner Classy Mirage) and this one could be any type if he runs to his potential.
Zakaroff is a top local horse in the division who was third to More Power To Him last out. His best from well off the pace makes him a must-use on any exotics wager.
So Conflated is one of two from Doug O’Neill and also one of two maidens in here. The Reddam Racing colorbearer brings in the stable’s go-to jockey Mario Gutierrez, and if there’s ever a stakes for a horse looking to break his maiden in, this may be the spot.
Aberdeen Island broke his maiden here in a sprint at second asking last out and will need his best to have a say in the outcome here.