01/11/2011 3:04PM

Jauregui pair can improve in California Derby

Vassar Photography
Gold Rush winner Positive Response is expected to be favored in Saturday's California Derby.

ALBANY, Calif. – Many of the 3-year-olds expected for Saturday’s $100,000 California Derby have questions to answer in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Early-season 3-year-olds can improve almost overnight, which is what trainer O.J. Jauregui is hoping for with Mr. Candy Bar and Northern Indy.

Both of his nicely bred 3-year-old colts came up short in their stakes debuts after impressive maiden victories. Northern Indy was sixth in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue on Nov. 20, while Mr. Candy Bar was fifth behind Positive Response in the Dec. 11 Gold Rush here. Positive Response is the likely California Derby favorite

“He didn’t run the race I thought he would,” Jauregui said of Mr. Candy Bar, a son of Candy Ride. “The horse that won that day got an easy lead. We were farther back than we wanted to be early, but we were less than two lengths from second. “

Jauregui also expected more from Northern Indy, a son of A.P.  Indy, although he concedes he was “taking a shot” running him in a graded race.

“Instead of rushing him back, we backed off a bit,” Jauregui said. “He’s still maturing.”

Both Jauregui colts are eligible for first-level allowance races, but those races don’t fill sometimes, and most of the runners pointing to the Derby could be running for the first condition anyway.

“I’d like to run the first condition. He could have used that first-level allowance race,” Jauregui said. “He still has a chance to win because he’s improved. We need to get experience. I want to get to the El Camino Real Derby with him.”

The Grade 3 El Camino Real will be run Feb. 12.

Jauregui is willing to throw out Mr. Candy Bar’s effort in the Gold Rush.

“He didn’t run his best race,” he said. “He’s young, still learning. He’s training better now. He’s more focused.

“Can he win it? He’s capable.”

Trainer Ed Moger Jr. has questions as well about The Great Caper, who will be making his first start around two turns.

The Albert the Great colt comes into the California Derby off an allowance win following a six-month layoff.

“I liked this horse right from the start,” Moger said. “He’s bred to go much farther.”

The Great Caper began his career in a couple of $40,000 maiden claimers at Hollywood Park, running third in his debut and winning his second start in a photo over Comma to the Top, who has won the Real Quiet, the Grade 3 Generous, and the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in his last three starts.

The Great Caper finished sixth in the Lost in the Fog here in June before a “little problem” sent him to the sidelines, but he dueled all the way and prevailed by a head in his comeback.

“He was training good enough I thought he could win,” said Moger.

After sitting back in his first three starts, The Great Caper led most of the way in his comeback, but Moger said, “he does not need the lead.”

Since his Dec. 10 victory, the Great Caper has worked a half-mile, seven furlongs, a mile, and six furlongs, and Moger said after Sunday’s six-furlong work he galloped out strongly for another two furlongs.

Though this is his colt’s first try around two turns, Moger thinks the colt’s pedigree will work to his advantage.

“Breeding is what gets a horse that far,” he said.

Wealthy Aviator, third in the Barretts Juvenile in his second start, Bluegrass Reward, Rule He Must, and Zayda are locally based runners whose connections indicated earlier in the week that they would be running.

Golden Gate Fields will have a sweatshirt giveaway for fans on California Derby Day.

Big wins for European riders

French jockey Julien Couton pulled into a tie with Russell Baze for the early lead in the jockey standings with his first four-win day on Sunday. Couton, who has 13 victories in the meet’s first 10 days, had three wins on Friday.

Couton rode only one favorite, Infinity N’ Beyond ($5.40), in the ninth, among his four winners.

Also on Sunday, English jockey Alice Cartwright scored her first victory at Golden Gate Fields one day after her 24th birthday. Cartwright rode at Monmouth Park where she had nine winners before coming to Golden Gate Fields last month.

Cartwright won the fourth race with Wentzville Man ($6.40).

Autism Awareness back on track

Upset specialist Autism Awareness, who was winless in six starts in 2010, snapped a nine-race losing streak with a victory in a $50,000 optional claimer Sunday. It was his first victory since a 30-1 upset in the Grade 3 Berkeley in 2009. His other signature win came at 62-1 in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.

The 6-year-old boosted his lifetime earnings to $345,917.