02/28/2008 12:00AM

Cal-breds follow different paths to Derby


ARCADIA, Calif. - George Schwary is trying to contain his excitement these days. He really is.

Schwary has watched in amazement in recent months as his California-bred gelding Georgie Boy won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity last September and his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita last month.

The wins have put Georgie Boy, the first horse that Schwary bred on his own, on course for the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

"I bred some others with partners and we had moderate success, but never anything like this," he said earlier this week from his Los Angeles office.

Georgie Boy, by the California sire Tribal Rule, is one of several promising California-breds who could run in the Kentucky Derby. The group includes Bob Black Jack, the world record holder at six furlongs; Nikki'sgoldensteed, the winner of the Turf Paradise Derby last month; and Sierra Sunset, the winner of the California Cup Juvenile last fall and the runner-up in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 18.

The California-bred filly Golden Doc A, the winner of the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes last month, remains a candidate for the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks on May 2.

In coming weeks, the four males will be tested in graded stakes that will determine whether they will continue on the Kentucky Derby trail. No one has made reservations for stall space at Churchill Downs - yet.

Georgie Boy is likely to make his next start in the $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 15, which at 1 1/16 miles will be his all-important first start around two turns.

Schwary, 75, the retired owner of an appliance company, supported trainer Kathy Walsh's decision to end Georgie Boy's 2-year-old season after the Del Mar Futurity in September, resisting the temptation of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and other lucrative races in the fall. The vacation may pay off.

"We wanted him to grow," Schwary said. "That was the key right there. We didn't want to work him too much and have a problem."

Any doubt about Georgie Boy's comeback ended with his victory in the San Vicente, when he rallied from fourth to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

"He was really flying," Schwary said.

The conservative approach was necessary partially because Schwary and Walsh have only one Triple Crown candidate.

"We've got to nurse this guy along," Schwary said. "Maybe we'll hit the big time. I couldn't ask for anything more, really. I could, but that's reaching.

"I have been dreaming, but we've got to take it a step at a time. I want to see if he can go long. I'm anxious to see what happens March 15."

The San Felipe also will draw Bob Black Jack, who ran six furlongs in a world record 1:06.53 in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita on Jan. 26. By Stormy Jack, Bob Black Jack has won 3 of 5 starts and $268,925, all for owners Jeff Harmon and Tim Kasparoff.

Although Bob Black Jack has yet to run farther than seven furlongs, the San Felipe distance does not overly concern trainer James Kasparoff, Tim's brother.

"It's the X factor," he said. "Right now, I could sprint him if I wanted to. We want to see if he can route because the money is so significant. I'm not too worried. We've been rating him in his works. He's been very professional about things."

Bob Black Jack has won at seven furlongs, in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

While Georgie Boy and Bob Black Jack have been running in stakes for months, Nikki'sgoldensteed has only just reached that level. He started in a two-furlong maiden race last April, finishing eighth. By Formal Gold, Nikki'sgoldensteed was transferred to trainer Bob Hess Jr. after two starts and finally beat maidens in his fifth start, which came at Santa Anita on Jan. 11.

Owned by Matt Lomas and Gary Spencer, Nikki'sgoldensteed followed that win with a victory in the Turf Paradise Derby on Feb. 9.

His next start is the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows on March 8, a race that Hess chose over Saturday's Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. The Sham includes two leading Kentucky Derby hopefuls in Colonel John and El Gato Malo.

"Not to take anything away from the horses up there, but there is no Colonel John," Hess said. "I like the timing, too. He's a pretty good horse. He's bred to run a mile and a quarter."

Hess describes Nikki'sgoldensteed as a 16-2 hand, 1,200-pound horse "with the bones to hold up that body."

Distance is probably not going to be an issue for Sierra Sunset, the most experienced of the leading California-bred Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Trained by Jeff Bonde for Philip Lebherz, Al Mariani, and George Schmitt, Sierra Sunset has won 3 of 10 starts, including the California Cup Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles last November.

By Bertrando, the leading sire in California in 2007, Sierra Sunset is winless in three starts since the Cal Cup, including a second by 2 1/4 lengths to Denis of Cork in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes over a mile at Oaklawn Park. He makes his next start in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes over 1 1/16 miles there on March 15.

"It really matters how he does in the next race," Lebherz said. "We hope to be in the top three.

"This is an amazing horse. He never quits."