02/14/2012 1:08PM

Golden Gate: El Camino Real a proven springboard

Vassar Photography
Lady of Fifty, with Russell Baze riding, wins the California Oaks.

Since its first running in 1982, the El Camino Real Derby has often been a springboard to success.

From 1984 to 86, the Preakness winner competed in the El Camino. The 1984 Preakness winner, Gate Dancer, ran second to French Legionnaire in the El Camino in 1984, and 1985 Preakness winner Tank’s Prospect and 1986 winner Snow Chief each won the El Camino Real.

In 1994, El Camino winner Tabasco Cat won the Preakness and Belmont. In 1999, Charismatic was second in the El Camino before winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

This year’s Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields is expected to have a field of 10 (entries were to be drawn Wednesday), headed by the Jerry Hollendorfer pair of Russian Greek, who won the California Derby, and the filly Lady of Fifty, who won the California Oaks. Others expected for the 1 1/8-mile Tapeta race include Daddy Nose Best, trained by Steve Asmussen, who won last year’s El Camino with Silver Medallion; Lucky Chappy, who will be the first Golden Gate Fields starter for trainer Graham Motion; All Squared Away and Senior Rain, who are both trained by the Southern California-based Peter Miller; and Cahill Chrome, Handsome Mike, Rockharz Recruit, and Unveiled Heat.

Hollendorfer, who leads all trainers with five El Camino wins, including three in the past six years, has secured Aaron Gryder aboard Russian Greek and Russell Baze on Lady of Fifty. Baze has ridden eight El Camino winners, including three straight and six of the past seven. Julien Leparoux will ride Daddy Nose Best, and Alan Garcia will be aboard Lucky Chappy. Both jockeys will be riding at Golden Gate for the first time.

This will not be the first time Hollendorfer has run a filly against males in a major Golden Gate stakes. He won the California Derby with Pike Place Dancer, who went on to win the 1996 Kentucky Oaks.

Lady of Fifty swept the local divisional series for fillies, winning the six-furlong Golden Gate Debutante, one-mile Corte Madera, and 1 1/16-mile California Oaks, all in wire-to-wire style.

Hollendorfer, who owns Lady of Fifty with longtime friend and business partner George Todaro, said Baze told him he has been impressed with Lady of Fifty’s recent works. She worked six furlongs in 1:15.40 Sunday in her final prep for Saturday’s race.

“She’s at Golden Gate, has handled the track well, and has good or tactical speed,” said Hollendorfer, explaining his decision to run the filly. “And I didn’t have another race for her.”

Russian Greek won the one-mile Gold Rush and 1 1/16-mile California Derby, coming from well off the pace both times.

The different running styles of his entrants give Hollendorfer a shot from near the lead and from off the pace.

“It helps solve one problem if you have two in the race,” he said. “You don’t want two horses going out head and head against each other.”

Russian Greek wound up preparations with a half-mile work in 49 seconds at Golden Gate on Tuesday. Russian Greek, with Baze aboard, went in fractions of 24.20 and 36.80 seconds, according to track clocker Art Lobato.

Hollendorfer, who is also running Longview Drive in Monday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, says the El Camino will help determine whether Russian Greek is a candidate for the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s going to tell us some kind of story,” he said.

“I tell my owners, we’ll let the horse take us to the Derby, we won’t take him.”

The El Camino Real Derby will be telecast live on local television from 4 to 5 p.m. Pacific on Comcast SportsNet California. The track is giving out long-sleeved T-shirts with the silks of all the previous winners on the back.

◗ Golden Gate Fields will race on Monday, which is Presidents Day.