01/10/2013 2:44PM

Golden Gate: Zeewat faces new challengers in California Derby


Zeewat looks like a standout as 3-year-olds take their first steps along the Derby trail Saturday in the $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Zeewat added blinkers and scored a resounding victory in the one-mile Gold Rush, Golden Gate’s prep for Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile California Derby, defeating rivals Condiment by 3 1/4 lengths and My Best Bet by 4 1/4 lengths. He did it by settling behind a slow early pace, taking the lead on his own, and pulling away when jockey Russell Baze finally asked him to run in the stretch.

Condiment and My Best Bet – each of whom has placed in three stakes – are both solid, but if Zeewat is to be tested in this prep for the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16, it will likely have to come from a new face.

Two runners come north to challenge the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Zeewat.

Will True Up won his maiden in a six-furlong turf race at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 8 and then ran third in the $75,000 Eddie Logan at one mile at Santa Anita on Dec. 29.

Tree of Life made up a 10-length deficit to win his debut at 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar and then won the 6 1/2-furlong, $100,000 Barretts Juvenile at Fairplex in his second start. He raced wide while finishing 10th in the Grade  1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October, losing by 4 3/4 lengths, and then closed for fifth, beaten three lengths, in the Grade 3 Generous on the turf at Hollywood Park on Nov. 24.

Wildcat Moon brings a two-race win streak into his first start around two turns.

But the most intriguing runner in the field could be the filly Butterfly Soul.

Trainer Genaro Vallejo understands the immense challenge for the daughter of Henny Hughes, who was a $2,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by Johnny Taboada. Taboada teamed with Vallejo for Autism Awareness’s $126 upset in the 2008 Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.

“She’s training really, really well,” Vallejo said.

“I know I’m taking a real shot against boys, but there’s only one or two to beat in there.”

Butterfly Soul won the P.D. Shepherd at Fairplex in her second start, earning a higher Beyer Speed Figure while running a half-furlong farther than Tree of Life did in his Barretts win. She also turned in a big effort when she lost a photo to Miss Empress in the $100,000 Pike Place Dancer on the turf Oct. 27 at Golden Gate, earning a Beyer that would be quite competitive in this race.