Stakes Preview: El Camino Real Derby – Saturday February 15th – By Caleb Knight @CalebWVU

Golden Gate Fields
Race 7 – El Camino Real Derby 11/8 Miles (AW)

With the NHC now firmly in the rear-view mirror, the attention shifts back to the Derby trail as we have a Preakness win-and-you’re-in race at Golden Gate Fields that also awards Kentucky Derby points. The El Camino Real Derby offers an opportunity for 3-year-olds to earn Derby points on a 10-4-2-1 scale, and this year the field appears wide open.

#1 Indian Peak – Indian Peak ran a career best two back when pulling away impressively over a few of today’s foes and appears to be a threat in this spot today. One can forgive his last race, when he was trying dirt for the first time, may not have cared for the surface, and had some traffic trouble coming into the stretch. Pedigree suggests this may be a little too far for him, but he has been working lights out in the mornings. Note Hernandez ends up here when he had options, including the Blaine Wright trained half sibling to Anothertwistafate. Live longshot.

#2 Praise Loudly – This appears to be an ambitious spot for this gelding, as he was well-beaten by a few of today’s rivals and has never ran fast enough to compete in a spot like today. Would be a huge upset. Toss.

#3 American Farmer – Steve Sherman trained colt finally broke his maiden last out after 5 tries, and this is a tough race to test the water against winners for the first time. American Farmer was the beneficiary of a hot pace to close into last time, and he would still need to improve off that effort to compete today. Toss. 

#4 Wine and Whisky – Wine and Whisky ran a strong race last out, barely out-finished by one of today’s contenders The Stiff in a blanket finish. Normally when a length separates the first-fourth place horses, it suggests the race generally lacked a standout and was a slow affair, although that is less true on the synthetic surface than the dirt. Take the race 2 back with a grain of salt, as he had a troubled trip and had to check multiple times. Improving sort is capable of hitting the board but would be a mild surprise on top. Exotics player. 

#5 Mysterious Stones – The second of the uncoupled Sherman entries, Mysterious Stone was one of the 4 horses involved in that January 19 blanket finish after pressing the pace, taking the lead late, but ultimately fading in the deep stretch. Golden Gate specialist clearly runs well at this track, and he does have tactical speed in a field that lacks a clear pacesetter. Still, he was caught last out after getting clear going 8.5 furlongs and now needs to last for an extra 1/16th. Exotics player. 

#6 Final Final – Final Final is a plodding type who tries hard but seems to be a cut below most of today’s rivals. This one doesn’t bring much early speed to the table, and it doesn’t appear he will get a fast pace today to set up his late run. Any added distance should be his friend, but he seems up against it today. Toss.  

#7 Sacred Rider – Son of Lucky Pulpit rarely runs a bad race, but he only has 1 win to his credit after 9 races. Ran a too-good-to-lose race last out when beat a neck to Fast Enough (on dirt), who went on to finish third in the San Vincente behind serious Derby contender Nadal and strong sprinter Ginobli. He has early speed, which should be a significant advantage in a race that lacks pace, but it’s fair to wonder if he might not be at his best over the synthetic surface. Could be dangerous if loose on the lead. The pick.

#8 Ajourneytofreedom –  Ajourneytofreedom, the half-sibling to last year’s El Camino Real winner Anothertwistafate, goes out for the same connections but doesn’t appear to possess the same talent. Colt took 3 tries to break his maiden, and then came up short without much excuse as the even money favorite last out. He does have early speed, which should help his chances here, but he will almost certainly be overbet due to the pedigree and connections. Note that normal pilot Hernandez jumps off to ride Indian Peak instead. Toss. 

#9 Azul Coast – The likely morning line favorite, Azul Coast is the only entrant who can claim this is a drop in class. He ran an okay second last out in the G3 Sham, but he still wasn’t in the same zip code as very highly regarded Authentic. Azul Coast doesn’t really fit the typically Baffert mold, as he is completely devoid of early speed. Baffert is clearly aware of this, as he uncharacteristically debuted him going a mile and with blinkers. Without much obvious speed signed on, this one could be at a disadvantage from a pace perspective. Note that he’s now had 3 different riders in his 3 career starts. Baffert is on record saying he didn’t weigh whether Azul Coast would take to the surface or not, but rather “it’s just a spot to run.” He may just be flat out good enough to overcome a weak field despite the negatives, but he’s a fade at a short price. Win contender. 

#10 Czechmight – Son of Street Sense ran a strong race breaking his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion before being purchased for $190,000 as a 2-year-old at the Keeneland November sale and shipped out west to the Baltas barn. Colt does own early speed, which will be crucial in order to save ground from the outside draw. Despite winning on dirt, he is built more like a turf horse, so I’m expecting him to handle the surface just fine. Last 2 workouts were sizzling fast, including a 1/122 blowout at Santa Anita on February 8th. Still, this is a tough test off a lengthy layoff in a first start against winners. Exotics player. 

#11 The Stiff – The widest of all, The Stiff enters here as the victor of the blanket finish of the January 19 race. It’s taken him a while to find his groove, and while it’s not encouraging that he had to drop to maiden claiming to get his first win, it was a high-level claiming affair and his first start on dirt. He’s unbeaten over dirt and synthetic, so perhaps he just doesn’t care for the turf? He closed from farther back than most in his win last out, and McCarthy is a red-hot 45% at Golden Gate this meet. Needs to work out a trip from the far outside post but might be good enough. Win contender. 

Picks: Azul Coast and Ajourneytofreedom will both be overbet and provide no value, so the prices on the others should be more than fair. Given the pace appears mild at best, I’m going with #7 Sacred Rider on top. #1 Indian Peak is a close second choice, with #10 Czechmight checking in third. I don’t like the blanket finish of the January 19th race, but if I had to take one from that field it would be #11 The Stiff. 

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