The lone stop of the Derby Trail in Northern California is the El Camino Real Derby for three year olds going 1 mile and ⅛ on the Tapeta surface. This race typically is not a big factor in the Kentucky Derby, but it is worth noting that the winner of the 2021 Preakness, Rombauer, was a winner of this race.
Bob Baffert has won two of the last three runnings of this race and three overall, winning it for the first time all the way back in 1996 with Cavonnier. He sends out both Gilmore (#1) and Nullarbor (#8), both of which run for the SF Racing, Starlight, and Madaket conglomerate. They’ll be facing the locals headed by Passarando (#4) and Chase the Chaos (#2). This Post time for this race is scheduled at 4:54 (PT)
Golden Gate Fields Saturday 2/11/23, Race 8: The $100K El Camino Real Derby
20 Total Derby points (10/4/3/2/1)
1 – Gilmore (4-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): The Bafferts will bookend the field in the starting gate for the signature three year old race in Northern California. This son of Twirling Candy has two starts, breaking his maiden most recently in a one mile contest at Los Alamitos. He’s one of only two runners in this field that were early nominations for the Triple Crown races. Since Baffert is dominating the entry box in all of the Southern California races, this seems like a reasonable jumping off point for the start of his three year old campaign. Horses sired by Twirling Candy have a 12% winning percentage on synthetic tracks over the last five years. I don’t think I’ll get 4-1, but he figures to be tough in this race.
2 – Chase the Chaos (3-1 ML, 350-1 Circa): This son of Astern has run three quality races since coming to the West Coast and joining Ed Moger’s barn. He was third in the Golden Nugget Stakes and second in the Gold Rush, beaten by Passarando in both. He ended his two year old campaign with a smashing win in optional claiming/N1X allowance company. That was a new Beyer Speed Figure top, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to progress and beat the morning line favorite for the first time today.
3 – Happy Does (10-1 ML): He finished seven lengths behind Chase the Chaos in that allowance race on December 30th, but he did come back to win in his most recent start last month. I’m not sure he’s done enough yet to narrow that gap between him and the local runners, and if one of the two Baffert runners take to this course, I think his best shot is going to be a minor award.
4 – Passarando (2-1 ML, 350-1 Circa): The morning line favorite is a Cal bred that shipped south for his most recent try in the Cal Cup Derby last month. He was third that day in a rather slow race. He should get a more favorable pace scenario in this spot today, and if both Baffert runners tire in their first race on the new surface, he’d be one that I’d be looking for late. He’s definitely a player in this spot.
5 – Harcyn (5-1 ML): After two successful efforts in sprint races, this undefeated son of Goldencents will try two turns for the first time today. The dam has foaled two other horses to race. Miss Maia is the only other winner, winning two of her races at one mile on this course. I do wonder if the nine furlongs will be a little far for him today, but there’s not a ton of other options for a three year old horse that has cleared the N1X condition at the moment. I assume one of the two Baffert runners are going to press him for the lead, which will make his task today more difficult. I think he has a lot of upside, but I’m not sure that we’re going to see it today.
6 – In Honor of Autism (12-1 ML): Johnny Taboada has a slew of horses with autism in the name as a way to draw awareness to the disorder, and as an uncle of a child with autism, I’m always rooting for his horses to win. This one has never finished off the board in five career starts, all of the Tapeta here at Golden Gate. Jonathan Wong wins a ton of races here year in and year out, hitting at a 26% rate at this current meet. He stepped up his speed figure in his last, earning a career top by a big margin. However, he’s going from a six furlong race to a nine furlong race against much sharper foes. My heart is with him, but my wallet thinks otherwise.
7 – Sea Dog (20-1 ML): He’s coming off a career best effort when he finished third behind Happy Does at long odds here. I think that one is going to be up against here, so he’d be hard for me to endorse in this spot, as he seemingly has a lot of ground to make up on the local hopefuls.
8 – Nullarbor (6-1 ML): The other Baffert didn’t show much in his first two starts in Southern California. Baffert gave him a few months off and brought him back in a maiden/optional claiming race at six furlongs, where he was a handy winner. Stretching him out to nine furlongs seems like a tall order. He has a little more speed than his stablemate, so he could be out there to ensure an honest pace. Assael Espinoza, who is winning at 24% clip at this meet, does get the mount. I prefer others, but he wouldn’t be a shock.
The Verdict: 1-2-4
While I don’t think we’re looking at any real Derby hopefuls, the winner of this race does get an automatic berth in the Preakness if they so desire. I think Gilmore (#1) has a chance to win this race in his third career try. Baffert won this race with Blackadder last year and with Azul Coast in 2020. Prior to that he hasn’t shipped too many horses here since they’ve gone to a synthetic surface. He’s getting a better feel as to which ones can handle the course here.
Chase the Chaos (#2) and Passarando (#4) are the best of the locals in this spot. Passsarando has had the upper hand in their first two meetings, but after the last race from Chase the Chaos, I’m thinking that gap is much narrower today. If the odds disparity widens, I’d prefer Chase the Chaos over the morning line favorite.
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