01/12/2010 12:00AM

Our Minesweeper, Pletcher colt to clash

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Derby fever heats up at Golden Gate Fields this week with the $100,000 California Derby at 1 1/16 miles over the Tapeta main track on Saturday.

At least one big name is expected to enter a horse - Todd Pletcher, who is planning to run the undefeated Connemara.

Northern California will have at least two representatives, multiple stakes winner Our Minesweeper and Cahill Country, who has won 2 of his last 3 starts. Brady Blue Eyes, Cardiff Giant, Ranger Heartley and Setsuko are considered possible for the race.

The California Derby starts the process that winnows the region's 3-year-olds with Derby dreams into contenders and wanna-bes.

But success or lack of it in this race doesn't necessarilly translate to the same on the first Saturday in May. In 1998, Bob Baffert sent Real Quiet to the Golden Gate Derby and saw him finish last on a sloppy track. Real Quiet, of course, went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Last year, Chocolate Candy shifted north for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and won both the California Derby and Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. Then he finished second in the Santa Anita Derby and fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

Connemara is 2 for 2, having won his debut at Turfway Park and an allowance race at Santa Anita, both going two turns. He'll be making his first start in 2 1/2 months.

Connemara may have star power, but Our Minesweeper has some credentials of his own. He won the Cavonnier at Santa Rosa and the one-mile Bart Heller here, earning a higher Beyer (81) than Connemara did in either of his two races. In October, Our Minesweeper ran last of four in the six-furlong Jack Goodman at Santa Anita, and last out on Dec. 12 he finished second to Sourdough Sam in the one-mile Gold Rush.

With three strong five-furlong works since then, Our Minesweeper is going into the California Derby "absolutely perfect," according to trainer Michael Lenzini. His final work Sunday was a best-of-55 five-furlong work of 59.40 seconds.

Lenzini, who will switch jockeys from William Antongeorgi to Frank Alvarado on Saturday, said Alvarado told him, "We will win the derby" when he got off Our Minesweeper following that work.

"He worked him in his previous work, in company," Lenzini said. "We had a rabbit about five lengths in front of him, and he did what we wanted.

"I told Frank he didn't have to work him Sunday, but he said, 'No.' He didn't really ask him, but he let him go late and came home in 23 and change. I think he wanted to see how much kick he had."

The tests continue to get tougher for 3-year-olds, and Lenzini says that Our Minesweeper's performance will determine the direction he takes with the gelding.

"He's been in a lot of big races, but if we are going to go on to the next category, we'll have to move up," he said.

Lenzini said he wouldn't trade places with Pletcher on Saturday.

"I'm hoping Pletcher will need a race," he said. "We're stepping up now, but I like the home-court advantage."

Lenzini said he is switching to Alvarado because he wants a more experienced rider for Our Minesweeper's biggest race. Russell Baze will ride Connemara.

* Golden Gate Fields will run on Monday, usually a dark day, because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

* On Saturday, fans will receive a free Golden Gate Fields fleece jacket and get to watch the Wiener Nationals dog races.