01/15/2013 3:03PM

Golden Gate: Zeewat's victory in the California Derby makes him local favorite for El Camino Real

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Marcel Langevin/Vassar Photography
Despite trouble at the start, Zeewat wins the California Derby under Russell Baze.

Prep races last weekend helped clear the air regarding the $50,000 California Oaks on Feb. 9 and Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16.

Sent off the 9-10 favorite, Zeewat won Saturday’s $100,000 California Derby as expected. The runner-up was Wildcat Moon, who was making both his route and stakes debuts.

Both are being pointed to the El Camino Real Derby.

Zeewat, who has been nominated to the Triple Crown, may find himself an even heavier favorite in the El Camino Real Derby than he was in the California Derby. Not necessarily because he won the race, but because of the way he won it.

Zeewat hopped at the start of the 1 1/16-mile race, which might have turned out to be a good thing because Wildcat Moon, breaking from his immediate right, came in as he left the starting gate. Russell Baze checked Zeewat to avoid sharp contact with Wildcat Moon, who brushed with Condiment before straightening out and taking the lead.

Zeewat found himself shuffled back during the run to the first turn, but used his speed to settle into a nice stalking position by the time the field reached the backstretch.

He was content to sit off the tepid pace set by Wildcat Moon and swung out four wide so that he was in the clear heading for home. He stuck his head in front early in the stretch and prevailed by a half-length over a determined Wildcat Moon.

The effort was more visually impressive than the 1:46.50 final time or resulting 80 Beyer.

“I was pleased with the way the horse handled himself,” said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who owns the Harlan’s Holiday colt with longtime client George Todaro. “I thought he proved himself to be a pretty good horse today. He got pinched back at the start, but the horse willingly ran up in between horses and then was laying fourth. And then when Russell made his run, he had to go wide.”

Asked about running Zeewat in the El Camino Real Derby, Hollendorfer said, “I think that’s what I’m going to point this particular horse for.”

Baze, noting the problems that cropped up during the race, said: “I was pretty impressed with the way he finished up today. He waits for you to tell him what to do, and when you do, he does it. I’ve always liked the way he moves so efficiently over the ground. I think he’ll go further. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

The victory was the second straight for Zeewat, who also won the one-mile Gold Rush here in December.

Trainer Jeff Bonde reported that Wildcat Moon was feeling as good as his trainer.

“We’re very happy,” Bonde said. “He ran a nice race.”

A D’wildcat colt, Wildcat Moon survived two inquiries – the first for his left turn out of the gate and then a jockey’s objection by Tree of Life’s rider Dennis Carr for alleged interference in the stretch.

Wildcat Moon relaxed nicely, and Bonde plans plenty of long gallops for him in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby, which offers 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner. The new points system will be used to determine eligibility for the Kentucky Derby in the event more than 20 are entered.

The recently gelded Tree of Life ran third in the California Derby, re-rallying after being shuffled back at the head of the lane. Both Tree of Life (77) and Wildcat Moon (79) earned career-best Beyers.

The filly Butterfly Soul ran fourth as she bid to become only the fourth filly in history to win the California Derby.

While she would likely be favored to win the California Oaks, her trainer, Genaro Vallejo, said he and owner Johnny Taboada are thinking about running her in the El Camino Real Derby.

“She ran decent against the boys,” Vallejo said. “We may take a shot in the El Camino Real.”

Taboada scored an upset in the 2008 El Camino with Autism Awareness.

Oaks iffy for Lucky Moment

Although Lucky Moment won Sunday’s one-mile optional claiming prep for the California Oaks, she may skip the Oaks, said trainer Lloyd Mason, who bred her and owns her in partnership with old friend Jim Canaday.

“That was fun,” Mason said of the win. “We had lots of friends out for the race. She was impressive.”

Lucky Moment has several options for her next start. She won a starter allowance on turf two races back and could return to that surface. Because she ran for a $50,000 claiming tag Sunday, the California-bred Lucky Moment is still eligible for the first allowance condition.

If Lucky Moment doesn’t run, Sunday’s runner-up, My Lil Shamrock, looms a likely favorite in the Oaks.

My Lil Shamrock led most of the way in the race and was beaten by a length. She has run three times, winning a maiden race in her debut and finishing third in the Golden Gate Debutante in December.

“I thought she ran really good, although she came back plenty tired,” trainer Steve Specht said.

Debutante winner Marks Mine, also trained by Specht, is slated to run in the California Breeders Championship at a mile at Santa Anita on Jan. 26.

◗ Ciao Bella Luna, second in the Debutante, has been sold for an unspecified amount and sent to Louisiana, according to trainer Dennis Patterson.