03/07/2005 1:00AM

El Camino has long been key Derby stepping-stone


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby has become northern California's race of the year.

The San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile is northern California's only Grade 2 race, and last year's edition was won by Singletary, who went on to capture the Breeders' Cup Mile.

But it is the El Camino Real Derby, a race with a marvelous history, that is really northern California's signature race. Its $200,000 purse is the largest offered for a local race, surpassing the $150,000 offered for the San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile, which includes $50,000 from the Breeders' Cup Fund.

The El Camino Real Derby has been a springboard to Triple Crown success for horses such as 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness despite losing the El Camino; 1994 Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat; Gate Dancer, Tank's Prospect, and Snow Chief, the Preakness winners from 1984-86; 1996 Kentucky Derby runner-up Cavonnier; 1992 Kentucky Derby runner-up Casual Lies; and 2003 Belmont runner-up Ten Most Wanted.

At least 11 3-year-olds are being pointed to Saturday's 1 1/16-mile race, and several others are being considered for the race.

Buzzards Bay, winner of the Golden Gate Derby, and Stellar Magic, winner of the San Mateo Mile, will run, as will Golden Gate Derby runner-up Sharp Writer.

D. Wayne Lukas, who trained Charismatic, Tabasco Cat, and Tank's Prospect, will enter Big Top Cat.

Others who will run are Customer, Lucky J.H., Nodoubletouch, Prince of Gold, Stormin Away, Vasilias, and Wannawinemall.

Chattahoochee War, Golden Shine, Greeley's Galaxy, and Uncle Denny are being considered.

Winning the El Camino is a particular goal for David Shimmon and William Bianco of Fog City Stable, which owns Buzzards Bay. Shimmon and Bianco won the El Camino Real Derby in 2003 with Ocean Terrace and were thrilled when Buzzards Bay won the Golden Gate Derby in January.

Trained by Jeff Mullins, Buzzards Bay set a pressured pace in a field of three in the Golden Gate Derby and held on to edge Sharp Writer by a nose. On Oct. 31, Buzzards Bay won his maiden by coming from well off the pace after missing the break.

That type of versatility, Mullins believes, is an important quality.

The El Camino is on Buzzards Bay's schedule because, Mullins said, "he's training good, and it's a graded race."

"They took away the grade from the Golden Gate race, so it's important to get him some graded earnings [for Kentucky Derby eligibility]," he said.

In his most recent start, Buzzards Bay finished 10th of 11 under regular rider Mark Guidry in the Grade 3 Risen Star at Fair Grounds, but Mullins says the race is a throwout.

"He didn't handle the track," Mullins said. "Mark said he could never get comfortable on the track."

Active weekend for local stars

Stellar Magic had his final El Camino work Sunday, covering five furlongs in 1:01.20.

Trainer Brian Pitnick said he was very happy with the work. "He started five lengths behind a stablemate and wound up five lengths in front of him," he said.

Lost in the Fog remained undefeated by winning the Grade 2 Swale Stakes under Russell Baze on Saturday at Gulfstream. The victory probably earned him a shot in the Florida Derby.

Lost in the Fog was tired but fine after the race, and Baze said he hasn't been this excited since he was riding Event of the Year.

"He was real relaxed early," Baze said of Lost in the Fog. "I could have slowed him even more, but he was going easy, and I didn't want to give other people a chance to gang up on him.

"I'm not surprised he was tired. That was a deep, tiring track."

Trickey Trevor keeps getting better

Three of the nominees from the cancelled President's Day Sprint match up in Wednesday's feature, a six-furlong allowance sprint.

Trickey Trevor, who has won four straight, is the one to beat. He has been claimed from each victory and has improved his Beyer Speed Figures each time. He earned a 106 in his last race, which came at 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on Jan. 19. Jerry Hollendorfer claimed him for $62,500.

Onebadshark, a multiple stakes winner, is also entered, as is Demon Warlock, another multiple stakes winner, who has 6 wins and 2 seconds in 9 starts at the distance. Stakes-placed Motel Staff has the most victories of any of the entrants, with 16.

Not to be overlooked is Ice Legend, who has won his past three sprints and brings a two-race win streak into Wednesday's race.

"We learned that when we take him off the pace, he really finishes well," said trainer Ed Moger Jr. "I know his numbers aren't as good as some of them in here, but he's shown improvement, and he's training real good."