12/21/2012 4:11PM

Golden Gate: El Camino Real Derby highlights winter-spring meet


Golden Gate Fields is offering stakes races in just about all categories for the 101-day winter-spring meet that begins Wednesday.

The glamour division, of course, is 3-year-olds, and Golden Gate’s big race for that age group is the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16. The $100,000 California Derby Jan. 12 is the main prep.

The meet also features stakes for 3-year-old fillies (California Oaks), sprinters (Albany), female sprinters (Camilla Urso), female turf runners (Golden Poppy), male turf runners (Grade 3 San Franciso Mile), main-track route horses (Grade 3 All American), 2-year-olds (Lost in the Fog), and statebreds (Campanile, Silky Sullivan).

In past years, the San Francisco Mile, a one-mile race on turf for older horses, was considered Golden Gate’s signature race. But this year the El Camino Real Derby has supplanted it because of its status as a Kentucky Derby prep. The winner of the race gets 10 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Beginning in 2013, a points system will be used to determine who will start in the Derby in the event it is oversubscribed.

General manager Joe Morris plans to use the El Camino Real Derby as the focal point for the track, its fans, and its employees. He said the track is developing a special advertising campaign for the race.

“Every track needs a signature event,” said Morris. “This gives us a signature event for fans and also for employees. We can shine the place up.”

Two years ago, Golden Gate began a series of 2- and 3-year-old races highlighted by the El Camino Real Derby. The road to the 2013 El Camino Real began in November with the Golden Nugget at six furlongs and the Gold Rush at one mile on Dec. 8.

Morris said he thinks playing up the El Camino Real Derby and the track’s series for 3-year-olds could build local interest in the national 3-year-old scene, right through the Kentucky Derby.

“We can use it to educate fans about the 3-year-old stars, and it can help build interest in the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby on to the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “The last few years, the Kentucky Derby has been our highest handle day of the year, and we hope to carry that on through the Belmont.”

While the El Camino Real Derby will be the signature event, Morris says, “we still want to make a big deal” out of the San Francisco Mile, which often draws some of the best turf milers in California.

Morris said the track is trying to develop a new program that would contact owners whenever their horses are entered and invite them to the track.

He also is working on adding wi-fi capabilities to the track which would allow fans to bet with their phones or other mobile devices from their seats.

The popular Dollar Day Sundays – $1 parking, admission and food – will continue.