01/12/2013 7:58PM

Golden Gate Fields: California Derby begins badly, ends great for Zeewat

Marcel Langevin/Vasser Photography
Zeewat, ridden by Russell Baze, scores as the favorite in the California Derby.

ALBANY, Calif. – The finish of the $100,000 California Derby was much better for odds-on favorite Zeewat than the start.

Zeewat ($3.80) hopped as the gate opened, breaking awkwardly and getting shuffled back early in the 1 1/16-mile race that is the major local prep for the Grade 3, $200,000  El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16.

Wildcat Moon, who set the pace and held on for second in his stakes and route debut, broke inward, and Zeewat’s jockey Russell Baze hesitated briefly before trying to get Zeewat straightened away. Zeewat was shuffled back as the field raced to the clubhouse turn but was able to move into a stalking position while fourth in the field of seven going down the backstretch.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Zeewat began to build momentum as the field entered the second turn and eased out for room as the field of 3-year-olds turned for home. He quickly caught up to Wildcat Moon and was inching clear late, winning the race by one-half length in 1:46.50.

Tree of Life was third 1 1/4 lengths behind Wildcat Moon and one-half length in front of the filly Butterfly Soul.

Wildcat Moon survived two inquiries, first for his action at the start when he brushed Condiment, whose rider dropped his whip, and then after Tree of Life’s jockey Dennis Carr claimed foul for interference in the stretch.

Zeewat, who won the one-mile Gold Rush in his previous start, earned $60,000 with his fourth win – and third stakes victory – in six starts. Purchased for  $50,000 during the September yearling sale at Keeneland , Zeewat increased his career earnings to $177,000 for owners George Todaro and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.