12/23/2009 1:00AM

Golden Gate 3-year-olds looking strong


The opening-day Silveyville Stakes may not have filled, but the first three stakes of the meet at Golden Gate Fields - all for 3-year-olds - look like they are coming up strong. The 115-day meet at the Albany, Calif., track begins Saturday and runs through June 13, 2010.

The new year kicks off with the $75,000 California Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on Jan. 1. The $100,000 California Derby will be run Jan. 16, with the Grade 3, $150,000 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 20. All three will be run on the Tapeta main track.

Golden Gate general manager Robert Hartman is hoping to get some of California's better 3-year-olds early in the season. Last year, Chocolate Candy and Massone ran one-two in the El Camino Real Derby. Chocolate Candy went on to run second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and fifth in the Kentucky Derby, while Massone finished third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland and Grade 2 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs

"We want to run our 3-year-old stakes earlier in the season," said Hartman. "We did that last year, and it seemed to work. We saw Chocolate Candy and Massone, who both did well during the year. It's tough competing against the 3-year-old races in Southern California, so we put ours early when younger horses were still developing and then they could try to compete in the Santa Anita Derby."

Three other graded stakes races will be run at the meet besides the El Camino Real: the Grade 2, $150,000 San Francisco Mile on the turf April 24, and a pair of Grade 3, $100,000 stakes Memorial Day weekend - the Golden Gate Fields Turf on May 29 and the Berkeley on the main track May 31.

In keeping with national trends, the purse for the San Francisco Mile has been halved from last year's $300,000, and $50,000 was cut from the El Camino Real Derby purse. There are no main-track sprint stakes scheduled, but Hartman said he hoped that additional stakes could be added to the schedule.

"We're maintaining overnight purses," he said. "That makes sense even though we have to cut back on stakes. We could add some overnight stakes."

The California Oaks is expected to attract the first three finishers in the Corte Madera here earlier this month: Salty Fries, Antares World, and Bleach Blonde. Our Minesweeper, second in the Gold Rush here on Dec. 12, is likely to come back for the California Derby and perhaps the El Camino Real Derby. Sourdough Sam, who won the Gold Rush, has been sidelined with a shin injury.