01/19/2010 12:00AM

California Derby had no world-beaters


Saturday's California Derby did little to establish Kentucky Derby credentials for the six participating 3-year-olds.

The three Southern California invaders - Ranger Heartley, Connemara, and Thomas Baines - ran one-two-three, with the three local entrants bringing up the rear. None appeared to have an excuse.

Ranger Heartley won the race going wire to wire, but was allowed to set a very easy pace on a track that was playing slowly, and he will have to improve on his Beyer Speed Figure of 78 to be considered a contender in the major upcoming 3-year-old races.

Ranger Heartley weaved his way down the lane but deserves credit for digging in when challenged by Connemara, and was inching away late.

Ranger Heartley has scored wire-to-wire victories in 3 of his last 4 starts. He was gunned to the front early in the 1 1/16-mile California Derby by jockey Julio Garcia, who then got him to relax through fractions of 24.20 seconds, 49.90, and 1:14.37. Ranger Heartley defeated odds-on Connemara by three-quarters of a length in 1:45.40.

Garcia said that trainer John Sadler told him to go to the front.

"The horse runs better that way," Garcia said. "Nobody put any pressure on me, and I had a lot of horse.

"This horse can run. When they came up to him at the eighth pole, he dug in and surprised me."

Connemara, making his first start since Nov. 4, went off at 7-10 as he sought to remain unbeaten in his third start. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Connemara rallied from fifth place. He had every chance to win but didn't.

Jockey Russell Baze said he believes the talent is there, but that Connemara didn't respond as quickly as he would have liked.

"He's extremely talented," said Baze. "When we were galloping out, he grabbed the bit and took off with me, which was kind of frustrating. I'd love to have another shot at him."

Shudacudawudya, the fourth-place finisher, pulled within a head of Ranger Heartley at the eighth pole before tiring in his first start around two turns.

Merus Miami returning

In last year's California Derby, Merus Miami ran third behind Chocolate Candy. On Thursday, he will make his first start since then.

Trainer O.J. Jauregui scratched Merus Miami from the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby last year. He came back with a solid work, but Jauregui then detected a quarter crack and sent the colt to the sidelines.

Jauregui believes Merus Miami has a chance to develop into a special horse, one who could run well on the turf as well as the main track. He has won both of his races, including the Gold Rush Stakes at one mile in his second start.

He starts back in a 5 1/2-furlong optional claiming sprint on the main track.

"Right now, what we're trying to do is get a race into him," Jauregui said. "I think he's pretty fit."

The race is filled with speed, which could give Merus Miami a chance to win.

"This horse, he's all game," said Jauregui. "He'll try. I wouldn't be surprised if he won.

"He'll get a good race and get something out of it. As long as he shows me he's nice and healthy, I'll be happy."

Jauregui said he appreciated that owner West Point Thoroughbreds gave the colt the time he needed to recover.

"When you have a good horse, it's better to give him time," he said. "I think as a 4-year-old he'll do better. He's a lot more mature."

Newly arrived rider looking sharp

Juan Jose Hernandez, a 17-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico, made a big splash at Golden Gate Fields on Sunday and Monday.

He won a pair of three-way photos, rallying Scarlet Rhythm from seventh to a neck victory in a five-furlong maiden race Sunday, and guiding Pure Silver to a head victory in a 1 1/16-mile $6,250 claiming win Monday. Scarlet Rhythm paid $111.80 and Pure Silver returned $9.60.

Hernandez was Mexico's leading apprentice rider in 2009 with a record 195 victories, his agent, Ramon Silva, said. He finished second in the $300,000 Internacional Clasico del Caribe in Puerto Rico last year aboard the Mexican filly Vivian Record.

Hernandez is 3 for 19 since arriving at Golden Gate Fields.