09/19/2013 3:47PM

Barretts at Fairplex: Pomona Derby lures Curly Top, Tree of Life

Benoit & Associates
Tree of LIfe, winning the Barretts Juvenile last year, goes for his second Barretts at Fairplex stakes win in the Pomona Derby.

POMONA, Calif. – The final Saturday of racing at the Los Angeles County Fair is the last easy chance for Curly Top or Tree of Life to win a stakes.

Curly Top and Tree of Life are key players in the $50,000 Pomona Derby for 3-year-olds, race 11 on the Barretts at Fairplex card. In the $50,000 Las Madrinas Handicap for fillies and mares, race 9, Toomanytomatoes faces Ruby Pumps. Both races are at 1 1/16 miles.

Curly Top finished seventh at Del Mar his most recent start, with an alibi. Trainer Bob Baffert accurately described the colt’s trip. “It was horrible,” he said.

Facing older allowance runners, Curly Top was bottled in traffic and gradually shuffled out of position. By the time the field reached the stretch, Curly Top had surrendered. It was a debacle Baffert believes can be disregarded.

“He’s a horse that’s maturing,” Baffert said. “He’s going well, he’s training well, and this could be a confidence booster for him.”

In fact, any of the colt’s four previous starts, all against allowance competition, would likely be fast enough to win the Pomona Derby. Curly Top, 1 for 7 with four runner-up finishes, will be ridden by Alonso Quinonez.

In 2009, the Pomona Derby purse was cut in half to $50,000, and the race now attracts allowance-caliber fields. The main threat to Curly Top is a course specialist. Tree of Life won the Barretts Juvenile one year ago and is rounding back into form.

“We got two races into him at Del Mar, and I think the dirt will help him a lot,” trainer Craig Dollase said. “We’re confident he’s going to run a good race.”

Tree of Life finished a creditable fourth last out in the El Cajon Stakes and should be ready for his best effort under Edwin Maldonado third start back from a layoff.

Other contenders in the Pomona Derby include supplemental nominee Too Fast to Pass, stakes winner Avare, and stretch-out sprinter Syndicated.

It is a modest field, much like the Las Madrinas, a former $100,000 stakes that also had its purse cut in half in 2009.

Seven entered the Las Madrinas, including four stakes winners. However, none of those four are in particularly good form. They include 2012 Las Madrinas upset winner Little Emily, Barretts stakes winners Going for a Spin and Candrea, and Cathy’s Crunches.

Candrea won the 2011 Phil D. Shepherd Stakes at Barretts and followed two weeks later with a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes. But the filly’s progress stalled, and she developed into an allowance filly with limited options. The Las Madrinas is her first race at Barretts in two years. Trained by Baffert, Candrea is the 118-pound highweight.

“There is no place else to run her,” Baffert said. “I’m trying something different with her.”

Another filly doing something different might end up winning.

Toomanytomatoes was claimed from a troubled third in a California-bred optional $25,000 claimer and will be making her first start for trainer Doug O’Neill.

Blinkers are on, she switches to dirt, and will be ridden by Agapito Delgadillo. Toomanytomatoes earned speed figures in summer that put her squarely in the hunt.

The Los Angeles County Fair race meet ends Sunday.