01/28/2016 2:36PM

Much is new for Smokey Image entering California Cup Derby

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Benoit & Associates
If he runs well in Saturday's Cal Cup Derby, Smokey Image (left) will be pointed to the Grade 2 San Felipe in March.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Saturday is a day of firsts for the unbeaten colt Smokey Image.

The $250,000 California Cup Derby at Santa Anita is Smokey Image’s first start of the year, his first around two turns, his first for trainer Carla Gaines, and his first under jockey Victor Espinoza.

The Cal Cup Derby also is the first leg of the Saturday pick six (races 5-10), and though Smokey Image is the most accomplished in the field, the 1 1/16-mile Derby is not a race he is required to win.

“This is the first stepping-stone,” Gaines said. “Is he completely geared up? I’m going to say no.”

Smokey Image won all five starts last year for Northern California-based trainer Greg James. By the end of the season, he was among the most highly regarded 2-year-olds in California. At age 3, the competition gets tougher.

“The reason he ended up down here is because the owners wanted to try him against open company,” Gaines said. “The Cal-bred race is the starting point. After that, we’re going to try open company.”

Smokey Image is owned by the Irvin Racing Stable. He was bred by C Punch Ranch, which was owned by the late Robert Irvin and his wife, Betty Irvin. Robert Irvin died in June at 93.

The colt faces six rivals Saturday, including potential pacesetter Glory Bound, the improved Tough It Out, and four others – Record Highs, Demonslayer, Xingontothebone, and Loyalist.

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If he runs well Saturday, Smokey Image will be pointed to the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 12.

Cal Cup Derby, Race 5

KEY CONTENDERS

Smokey Image, by Southern Image

(Last 3 Beyers: 82-82-85)

◗ Smokey Image arrived in Southern California in November and has trained forwardly for Gaines. His first five starts were sprints. The question – can he run long?

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“We think he’ll do it,” Gaines said. “His works, how well he gallops out, he has a real long two-turn stride. His pedigree says he will do it. He trains like he’ll do it. We think [two turns] is in his wheelhouse.”

◗ Espinoza, who won Kentucky Derby in 2014 and 2015 with California Chrome and American Pharoah, worked Smokey Image for the first time last Saturday.

“Victor loved him,” Gaines said.

◗ Smokey Image is racing for the first time since winning a stakes at Del Mar on Oct. 30.

Tough It Out, by Grazen

(Last 3 Beyers: 70-69-53)

◗ Phil D’Amato trains Tough It Out, whose improvement coincides with the ultimate equipment change.

“Ever since we gelded him, he made a dramatic turnaround,” D’Amato said. “He’s got his mind on business all the time.”

◗ Tough It Out won a maiden turf route in his first start as a gelding Nov. 12, followed by a respectable third in a dirt stakes. He has won one of four and will race for the first time since Dec. 12.

“He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s ready,” D’Amato said.

Glory Bound, by Heatseeker

(Last 3 Beyers: 74-77-64)

◗ A candidate to set the pace, Glory Bound is trained by Craig Dollase. He has improved since stretching out. His rider is Edwin Maldonado.

Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Is there any truth to the story i was told?Greg James refused to replace NorCal jockey Juan Hernandez (5-5 on Smokey) with a SoCal jockey,so the owners fired him.