02/13/2017 10:50AM

El Camino Real Derby could be start of something big for Ann Arbor Eddie

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Benoit & Associates
Ann Arbor Eddie beat California-breds in the King Glorious Stakes and the California Cup Derby (above), and jumps into the graded-stakes ranks for Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Ann Arbor Eddie has outgrown California-breds over the last 60 days with wins in stakes at Los Alamitos and Santa Anita. His performance in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday will determine whether he has progressed enough for an international trip.

If Ann Arbor Eddie runs well in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on Tapeta, he could run next in the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai on March 25.

“He’s got to keep moving forward to run in a race like that,” trainer Doug O’Neill said last weekend.

Ann Arbor Eddie has progressed steadily in his four starts. Owned by breeders Paul and Zillah Reddam, Ann Arbor Eddie won stakes for California-breds in his last two starts– the $100,000 King Glorious Stakes at a mile at Los Alamitos on Dec. 18 and the $245,000 California Cup Derby at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on Jan. 28.

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In each race, Ann Arbor Eddie was close to the pace and caught the multiple stakes winner California Diamond in the final strides.

The King Glorious-Cal Cup Derby double was accomplished in the winter of 2013-14 by California Chrome, who went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness Stakes that spring en route to being named the 2014 Horse of the Year.

O’Neill refuses to get too caught up in Ann Arbor Eddie’s success, especially in the context of California Chrome’s campaign.

“It’s a big jump from January to May,” he said.

After California Chrome, the following two winners of the California Cup Derby have had quiet careers. The 2015 winner, Mischief Clem, was seventh in the El Camino Real Derby that year. He has not raced since last February. Smokey Image won the 2016 Cal Cup Derby and lost his five subsequent starts. He has not raced since August.

Last November, Ann Arbor Eddie was third to Mastery in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at seven furlongs at Del Mar in his second start. Mastery later won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity and is considered the top 3-year-old prospect in California.

“I thought he was a good third to Mastery,” O’Neill said.

Ann Arbor Eddie is by Square Eddie, owned by the Reddams, who won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The gelding is out of the stakes winner Repo, who won two stakes for 2-year-old fillies in 2009 – the Landaluce Stakes against open company at Hollywood Park and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes for Cal-breds at Del Mar.

Even though Repo was best in sprints, O’Neill said he was not surprised that Ann Arbor Eddie has thrived in longer races.

“He’s shown he can run two turns,” he said. “Square Eddies can run on any surface.”

Among Ann Arbor Eddie’s possible opponents in the El Camino Real Derby are More Power to Him and Colonel Samsen, who finished second and third in the California Derby at Golden Gate on Jan. 21. The winner of the California Derby, So Conflated, is also trained by O’Neill and won’t be returning for the El Camino Real Derby.

O’Neill will be after his second consecutive win in the El Camino Real Derby. Last year, Frank Conversation won the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby in consecutive starts. He was later last of seven in the UAE Derby on dirt. Last fall, Frank Conversation won the Grade 2 Twilight Derby at 36-1 on Breeders’ Cup weekend on turf at Santa Anita.

The trip to Dubai with Frank Conversation taught the Reddams and O’Neill a lesson.

“We learned Frank Conversation runs on synthetic and turf,” O’Neill said. “He didn’t like dirt.”

Ann Arbor Eddie has won on dirt at Santa Anita and Del Mar, so that will be one fewer worry for the Reddams and O’Neill if he goes to Dubai.