Let the prep races begin! The road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby has begun. This week’s focus is on Saturday’s $200,000 G3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California. The race will be contested at 1-1/8 miles over the GG’s all-weather tapeta surface.
The road to the Kentucky Derby requires contenders to compete for points in designated derby prep races, and there are a total of 17 points up for grabs as seven 3yr olds run 1-1/8 over Golden Gate Field’s tapeta surface. The points will be distributed with 10 points for the win, 4 for 2nd, 2 for the show, and 1 for 4th. To put this in perspective, there are a maximum of 20 entries in the derby, and over 30 point bearing prep races. 7 of these prep races award 100 points to the winner (100-40-20-10), 9 races award 50 points to the winner (50-20-10-5), and the 19 races award 10 points (10-4-2-1). This is a 10 point race.
Checking my trusty track bias stats, 187 route races have been run at GG from 10/20/16 thru 02/12/17 and 22% have been won in wire to wire fashion. That’s a reasonable number. Over this time frame, the winning post positions have been fairly distributed across the starting gate. Kudos to the track superintendent. The track looks to be playing fair for all types and we can concentrate on pace, running lines, and form cycles.
The first thing that stands out about this field is the absence of pure speed. Nobody looks like they want the front which could set up a slow pace into the first turn and give the advantage to whoever is up close and saving ground. So who will be up front on Saturday?
The two that have shown some early ability are the 7-5 morning line favorite and Jerry Hollendorfer trainee Sheer Flattery, who will break from post 5 with Frank Alvarado aboard, and 2-1 2nd choice Ann Arbor Eddie who will run for Doug O’Neill with Mario Gutierrez up.
Sheer Flattery is coming off a 3rd place finish as the 1.40-1 favorite in a grade 3 event at Santa Anita. He had previously broken his maiden on Dec. 31st on an off track. That’s my biggest concern here. Sheer Flattery’s only win and best speed figure was in the slop. While his speed figures fit well with this group, I’d like to see him win on a fast track before I back him. (Remember Exaggerator’s wet track prowess/dry track mediocrity last year?)
Ann Arbor Eddie is a different story. He showed nice maturity as he sat on the flank of a modest paced leader and was able to grind out a victory in Santa Anita’s California Cup Derby. As the leader of that race and betting favorite opened up into the stretch, Ann Arbor Eddie was the only horse able to go with him and wear him down. I see the same pace scenario and same result this week. Though he has never run on the all-weather, Ann Arbor Eddie’s tactical speed and proven ability to win (3 wins in 4 lifetime starts) make him my top choice.
As for the rest of the field, with a questionable pace setup I am going to toss out 20-1 longshot Zackaroff. Zackaroff sat in a great early spot behind a contested lead, saved all the ground and had nothing left in the California Derby. I will also toss 8-1 Kona Dreams who is 0/4 lifetime and has only run on the turf while amassing a resume of modest at best speed figures.
The horses that caught my eye in the California Derby are 6-1 More Power to Him and 10-1 Colonel Sampson. Colonel Sampson sat 2 to 3 wide and only a length or so back of the duel and still held 3rd as More Power to Him came 5-wide and swallowed up ground in the stretch. Both horses showed the ability to handle Golden Gate Field’s tapeta surface well. With an expected slow pace, I like Colonel Sampson to be closer to the front and I think he will be able to garner 2nd with a fast closing More Power to Him battling for the show money with 7-5 favorite Sheer Flattery.
The bottom line is that I like an ice cold exacta with Ann Arbor Eddie for the win and Colonel Sampson 2nd, and a trifecta with Ann Arbor Eddie, Colonel Sampson, and either More Power to Him or Sheer Flattery for 3rd.