04/25/2013 3:18PM

Hollywood Park: Tiz a Minister at home in Snow Chief Stakes

Shigeki Kikkawa
After two strong stakes performances, Tiz a Minister was a nonthreatening fourth in the Santa Anita Derby..

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The $300,000 purse of the Snow Chief Stakes is not a poor consolation for ex-Kentucky Derby candidate Tiz a Minister to chase.

And though the Derby remains a slim possibility, the immediate focus is on Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park, where owner Steve Young and trainer Paul Aguirre start Tiz a Minister in the headline race on California Gold Rush Day.

As of Thursday, Tiz a Minister ranked 22nd on the Derby points preference list, needing two defections and a ship to Churchill Downs to make the 20-horse field. It is much easier for Tiz a Minster to walk out of his Hollywood stall into the Snow Chief starting gate.

“You don’t want to pass a $300,000 race on a maybe,” Aguirre said. “I want to do what is best for the horse.”

For now, the best race for Grade 2-placed Tiz a Minister is the Snow Chief, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and the richest of four stakes for California-bred runners Saturday at Hollywood.

Doinghardtimeagain is favored in the $250,000 Melair for 3-year-old fillies, a 1 1/16-mile stakes that is race 4. Mel’s Game tops the $125,000 Tiznow, a 7 1/2-furlong stakes for older that is race  5. Teddy’s Promise is the choice in the $125,000 B. Thoughtful, a 7 1/2-furlong stakes for fillies and mares that is race 8.

[CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH: Get Hollywood PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

The Snow Chief is race 9 of 10, and Tiz a Minister is no cinch. Rivals include graded stakes-placed Nina’s Dragon, sprint stakes winner Omega Star, and tough-trip upset candidate Surfcup. Others include Alydidit, Fighting Hussar, Heat Streaker and Bobo.

Tiz a Minister won the $300,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes in January, and emerged as a Kentucky Derby prospect finishing third by a length in the Grade 2 San Felipe in March. But next out in the Santa Anita Derby, he was never close, fourth by more than 12 lengths.

“We weren’t quite certain if the distance got him, or if he didn’t like the racetrack,” Aguirre said. “The rider said the track was cupping out from him. My gut feeling is the track got to him more than anything.”

It turns out Tiz a Minister also was battling a minor illness. Aguirre said he had “quite a bit” of mucus in his lungs that cleared quickly with antibiotics. Tiz a Minister, claimed by Aguirre and Young for $40,000 from his second start, has earned $327,780 in 11 starts. And the Derby is still on the table, though it would mean wheeling back in a week.

“He would need to finish his race strongly, and he would need to come out ice-cold,” Aguirre said. “I wouldn’t even consider it with any other horse, but this horse . . . racing and training doesn’t bother him.

“Having said that, it [the Derby] is a small shot.”

Corey Nakatani takes over for Joe Talamo, who sticks with Omega Star, winner of the low-rated Echo Eddie Stakes sprinting at Santa Anita.

Echo Eddie fourth-place finisher, Surfcup, had a troubled trip and merits a longshot chance stretching back to two turns.

The other graded runner in the Snow Chief is Golden Gate-based Nina’s Dragon. Runner-up in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, he finished 12th in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. According to trainer Lloyd Mason, the race was a toss because of kickback.

“He didn’t run his race,” Mason said. “The jockey said what he really didn’t like was all the sand. He wouldn’t run through the sand.”

Nina’s Dragon, 1 for 5, has trained well since returning to Golden Gate and shipped Monday to Hollywood where he has been jogging all week. “We have pretty high hopes for him Saturday,” Mason said. Julien Couton will ride.