03/09/2008 12:00AM

Autism Awareness pays $126 in El Camino Real


SAN MATEO, Calif. – Autism Awareness, the longest shot on the board, made a strong move in the stretch and pulled clear late to win the Grade 3, $150,000 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows on Saturday. He paid $126 to win.

"What a Cinderella story," said owner Johnny Taboada, who purchased Autism Awareness at the CTBA Northern California sale in his hometown of Pleasanton in September of 2006 for $1,000. The colt was named for his 8-year-old son Renzo, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.

Autism Awareness stalked pacesetters Nikki'sgoldensteed and Tres Borrachos while getting a ground-saving trip. He was boxed in behind the leaders while inside Pleasure Grounds on the second turn before jockey Luis Contreras was able to get outside of Pleasure Grounds and get in the clear.

Autism Awareness unleashed a strong kick and quickly got past the three front-runners after Pleasure Grounds stuck his nose in front of Nikki'sgoldensteed and Tres Borrachos at the furlong pole. Autism Awareness defeating Nikki'sgoldensteed by 1 1/2 lengths while winning the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.17.

Tres Borrachos was third another 1 1/2 lengths back, edging Pleasure Grounds by a head.

Autism Awareness was coming off a one-mile maiden victory at Golden Gate Fields in his 13th career start on Jan. 21. He was second in his previous start at a mile in his first try around two turns.

"Last time, he ran a nice race," said winning trainer Genaro Vallejo after his biggest career victory. "We wanted an easier spot but missed it. He was working so well, we wanted to give him a chance."

Contreras, a native of Mexico City who turns 22 next Friday, was also scoring his biggest victory.

"I can’t express how good it feels to win this race," he said. "This horse helped me a lot. He relaxed the way I wanted him to, and, when it was time to go, he took off when I asked him. He finished strong."

Nikki'sgoldensteed's rider Jon Court said his colt raced greenly, jumping shadows on the first turn.

"He finished up competitively," Court said. "I think he's getting better with each race. I think he has a promising future."

Favored Coast Guard finished eighth in the field of nine.

"It was the first time getting dirt in his face so I don't know if that had anything to do with it," his jockey Aaron Gryder said. "I know he's a better horse than he showed today."

Taboada said he might consider a late Kentucky Derby nomination for Autism Awareness, who earned $90,000 with the victory, improving his career earnings to $151,967.

"I’m pretty sure we have that now," Taboada said of the $6,000 late nomination fee.