01/14/2010 1:00AM

Connemara lacking only experience

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Trainer Todd Pletcher is using Saturday's $100,000 California Derby to get Connemara "seasoning," but that doesn't mean the Giant's Causeway colt can't win. The California Derby, a 1 1/16-mile race over the Golden Gate Fields Tapeta main track, drew a field of six 3-year-olds, including the Northern California stakes winners Our Minesweeper and Shudacudawudya, and Hollywood allowance winner Ranger Heartley.

Connemara has won both his starts, both at two turns. He won a maiden race by five lengths over the Turfway Polytrack in October, and an allowance race over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride Nov. 4. In both races Connemara rallied from near the back of the pack.

"We want to see continued development," said Pletcher. "We'd like to see him be a little more professional early and get a stalking position."

Connemara surprised Pletcher by beating stablemate Heart Butte in his debut.

"I thought the first race was pretty impressive," Pletcher said. "He broke very poorly and had little gate speed. He was so far back early, there looked like no way he could win."

Heart Butte came back to win his next start.

Pletcher called Connemara's half-length victory in a Santa Anita allowance race "workmanlike."

Pletcher opted to run Connemara in the California Derby instead of the one-mile San Rafael at Santa Anita, also Saturday, because he believes the colt will appreciate more distance.

Owned by Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith, Connemara is one of several 3-year-olds Pletcher trains who may have Derby potential. Among the others are Super Saver, winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last year; Rule, winner of the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot; and Eskendereya, who recently won a Gulfstream allowance race.

"I think we have a strong group of horses, but just because you're strong in January doesn't mean you'll be strong in May," said Pletcher.

The California Derby distance could be a question mark for Shudacudawudya, who won the six-furlong Golden Nugget here Nov. 21 and ran third in the 6 1/2-furlong Stuka at Hollywood Park on Dec. 19.

"Distance is a concern," trainer Lloyd Mason admitted. "He hasn't gone that far."

Shudacudwudya has been close to the pace in most of his six starts, all sprints. He could roll out to the lead from his outside post in the California Derby.

Our Minesweeper won the Bart Heller at one mile and ran second to Sourdough Sam in the one-mile Gold Rush here on Dec. 12.