Updated on 09/16/2011 8:47AM

Derby field fast and fit


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There are plenty of live chances among the nine starters in Saturday's $500,000 Hollywood Derby.

Unlike in most stakes, when some starters can be eliminated at a glance, the derby features several 3-year-olds coming off victories and others with losses but legitimate excuses.

The field includes the first four finishers of the Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita on Oct. 13 - Johar, Rock Opera, Mananan McLir and Inesperado - and the first, third, and fourth finishers from the Bay Meadows Derby on Nov. 3 - Royal Gem, Century City and Surprized. Add Music's Storm, the winner of the restricted Bien Bien Stakes on Nov. 6, and Union Place, the winner of the Calder Derby in Miami on Oct. 12, and there are several who can win the Hollywood Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles.

Typical of Grade 1 races, Hall of Fame trainers Richard Mandella and Bobby Frankel are represented with stakes winners. Mandella starts the likely favorite in Johar, who ended a five-race losing streak in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby with a nose victory over the front-running Rock Opera.

"He wasn't running bad races," Mandella said of the losses. "He just didn't quite get there." The Oak Tree Derby was Johar's first graded stakes win. Mandella admits that Johar will need to show improvement in the Hollywood Derby.

"I recognize there are some tough horses in there," Mandella said. "He would probably have to improve a little bit to win this race."

Frankel starts Royal Gem and Inesperado, both of whom are having strong years. Inesperado won three stakes earlier this year, including the Del Mar Derby, before finishing fourth in the Oak Tree Derby. Royal Gem won his first graded stakes in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Derby, which was preceded by a sixth in the Oak Tree Derby. At Bay Meadows, Royal Gem beat an unlucky Century City, who was left at the start, but rallied through the stretch to miss by a neck in his debut for trainer Beau Greely.

In Ireland in July, Century City won the Group 2 Goffs International Stakes at The Curragh, his final start for trainer Aidan O'Brien. The Derby promises to be a truly run race with Rock Opera, Surprized, and Union Place expected to set the pace. Such a scenario would help Music's Storm, who pulled a 24-1 upset in the Bien Bien Stakes.

"I'm very happy with the way he's training," trainer Eduardo Inda said. "I think he's a horse for the course."


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