04/26/2011 1:09PM

Golden Gate: Baton Roo stepping up for turf debut in San Francisco Mile

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While the El Camino Real Derby has attracted more attention of late, Saturday’s Grade 3 San Francisco Mile is considered by many to be Golden Gate Fields’s signature event. Among those who have run in the Mile is Silic, who finished fourth in 1999 before going on to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

The San Francisco Mile was dropped from Grade 2 to Grade 3 status this year, and Golden Gate Fields has cut the purse to $100,000 – the minimum level for Grade 3 races – after initially offering $150,000. As recently as 2009, the purse was $300,000.

Despite the purse cut, the one-mile turf race is expected to attract a good field, including the locally based Bold Chieftain and Baton Roo. They are studies in contrast, with Bold Chieftain a multiple stake winner and millionaire and Baton Roo making his stakes debut Saturday.

Trained by Bill Morey Jr., Bold Chieftain is the defending San Francisco Mile champion. Although he is a millionaire, the victory in last year’s San Francisco Mile was Bold Chieftain’s first graded stakes win. He’s also won two California Cup Classics and the Sunshine Millions Classic.

The 8-year-old has become a fan favorite based on his longevity and competitive nature, along with his 17 career victories.

Baton Roo, 4, comes into the race “under the radar,” acknowledges his trainer, Andy Mathis, and will likely be a longshot.

Baton Roo, 3 for 5, is coming off two one-mile allowance wins. All five of his races have come on the Golden Gate Fields Tapeta.

Although Baton Roo will be making his first turf start in the San Francisco Mile, it is a race that Mathis and owner-breeder Jeff Stiefel have been considering for some time.

Before dismissing the California-bred Baton Roo, fans might check his pedigree. His sire, Poteen, lost a photo to Tuzla in the 1999 San Francisco Mile. His dam, Unusual Babe, is by Unusual Heat, who is a superior turf sire.

“To me, if this race was a month from now and he’d had a chance to run a race on turf, that would be a perfect world,” Mathis said. “We wouldn’t be running if we didn’t think he’d run well. It may look on paper like we’re taking a bigger shot than we really are.”

Baton Roo will get to gallop on the turf course Thursday, just to get a feel for it.

Mathis said he is saddling an improving horse and compares facing Bold Chieftain to a boxing match that matches a young contender and a champion.

“Hopefully, we’ll know who he is after the race,” Mathis said of Baton Roo. “He could take a big step forward, and we’ll see if he’s ready to take it to them. We have a lot to gain and nothing to lose.

“I remember Bold Chieftain when he first started running,” Mathis said. “Maybe Baton Roo is a little like him. If he has a fraction of Bold Chieftain’s career, he’ll be fine.”

Not having to ship and running at what seems his perfect distance are pluses for Baton Roo. So is having Aaron Gryder agree to stay aboard him in the Mile.

“For a rider of his experience to stick with the horse validates what we’ve been dreaming,” Mathis said.

Ms. G. I. Jane earns black type

Mathis hopes Baton Roo runs as well for him as Ms. G. I. Jane did when she ran when third to U R All That I Am and Antares World in last Saturday’s Work the Crowd.

“She ran as hard as she could,” he said. “Those two that beat her are very salty.”

The third-place finish marked the 5-year-old Ms. G. I Jane’s first black type after having run fourth in two stakes last year.

“It was so frustrating last year, particularly when we were fourth at Santa Rosa when she was beaten by a length,” he said.

◗ What do you do when your day starts off with a 3-10 shot barely holding on for third by a head and never seriously challenging? If you’re Russell Baze at Golden Gate Fields on Sunday, you simply win the next four races, sit out the sixth race, and come right back to win the seventh.

◗ It wasn’t a bad week for trainer Steve Specht, but it could have been better. On Saturday, just 15 minutes before the Specht-trained Antares World ran second in the Work the Crowd, Lady Railrider ran second in the B. Thoughtful at Hollywood Park. Both held the lead in the lane. Earlier, Gig Harbor ran third in the opening-day Harry Henson at Hollywood Park in his stakes and turf debut.

◗ A pair of two-furlong races for 2-year-olds are scheduled Thursday and Friday. Thursday’s race for fillies includes Attracta, third as the favorite against males in Golden Gate’s first 2-year-old race, and Miss Fitzy, who was favored against colts at Santa Anita. Seven males will run in Friday’s race.

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