01/16/2009 1:00AM

California Derby a good place to start

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Trainers Jerry Hollendorfer and Frank Lucarelli know it's a long way from California to Kentucky, but both could take a step in that direction in Saturday's $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Hollendorfer sends out Chocolate Candy, who won the $100,000 Real Quiet on Nov. 8 at Hollywood Park and followed up with a strong third-place finish in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity there on Dec. 20.

Lucarelli brings back Gallant Son, a winner of three straight stakes last summer at Emerald Downs before finishing a better-than-looks seventh, beaten only 3 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

A field of seven, including the stakes winner Merus Miami and British import Axel Foley compete in the 1 1/16-mile race.

While the Kentucky Derby would be the ultimate goal, both Hollendorfer and Lucarelli see the California Derby as a perfect stepping-stone for next month's Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby here. Both chose to run here because the distance provides a perfect springboard to that 1 1/8-mile race.

Lucarelli gave Gallant Son a four-week break at a ranch following the Breeders' Cup, and he didn't initially intend to run him in the California Derby. But jockey Leslie Mawing, who has been working the colt, told Lucarelli that Gallant Son has been training strongly, so the trainer changed his mind.

"The second time he worked, he was hard to pull up, and Leslie said he hadn't lost much foundation at all," Lucarelli said.

Lucarelli says he wishes he had another work in his colt. He expects a good effort but doesn't want to push the colt late if he's tired.

"It's the next one where you really need to run well," he said, referring to the El Camino Real.

Hollendorfer passed the one-mile San Rafael at Santa Anita, also on Saturday, to run in the California Derby so that he wouldn't have to shorten up Chocolate Candy, who has run 1 1/16 miles in his past two starts.

"He's an awfully good horse," Hollendorfer said. "We feel like he can run longer distances."

A Candy Ride colt, Chocolate Candy is the likely favorite.

Hollendorfer also entered Revoluta, who could put pace pressure on the likely pacesetter Feisty Suances. Hollendorfer said he may seek a softer spot for Revoluta.