03/04/2008 1:00AM

Pleasure Grounds earns his shot


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The El Camino Real Derby wasn't on trainer Dean Pederson's radar three weeks ago. But his rapidly improving 3-year-old Pleasure Grounds now seems to have the best chance of any locally based runner in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 race at 1 1/16 miles.

Pleasure Grounds has run five times, with three wins and a pair of seconds, including a second in the six-furlong Stinson Beach Stakes on Jan. 5 at Golden Gate Fields. He won his first try around two turns in a one-mile $32,000 optional claimer here Feb. 15.

"I think he ran well enough that he deserves a chance," Pederson said. "He put himself in this position. There's nothing worse than feeling you have to make a race."

Pederson doesn't know for sure what he has in Pleasure Grounds.

"What I think we have is a useful horse," he said.

A $12,500 yearling purchase, Pleasure Grounds, a son of Doneraile Court, was not rushed by the always cautious Pederson. He debuted in a $40,000 maiden claimer at Bay Meadows last Oct. 18, running second. He won a straight maiden race, then a $40,000 starter allowance before running second to Italian Rules in the Stinson Beach.

Because Pleasure Grounds came out of that race tired, Pederson gave him more than five weeks of rest and then opted to run him in the one-mile optional claimer rather than in the six-furlong Sophomore Sprint the next day.

The El Camino is a big jump up, but Pederson says when a horse runs as well as Pleasure Grounds has "you gotta take a chance."

But this is no flight of fancy for Pederson.

"You never look to be running a horse just to be running a horse," he said.

Ten were entered in the race: Nikki'sgolden-steed, General Dan, Autism Awareness, Bamaha Breeze, Tres Borrachos, Pleasure Grounds, Behindatthebar, Coast Guard, Dreamed Day, and Master Daniel.

The other three locals entered in the race are the undefeated Bamaha Breeze, who would be making his first start around two turns after three strong performances; General Dan, who just graduated for a $32,000 tag; and Autism Awareness, who graduated at a mile in his last start.

Major contenders include Nikki'sgoldensteed, who has won two straight, including the Turf Paradise Derby; Coast Guard, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis at Santa Anita on Feb. 2; and Behindatthebar, a private purchase by Padua Stables after a maiden win Feb. 2 who will make his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Gonzalez gives Bai and Bai a winning ride

Winning Saturday's Foster City Stakes with Bai and Bai was particularly satisfying for jockey Roberto Gonzalez, because the 5-year-old mare is one of his favorite horses.

"I got on her as a baby," Gonzalez said.

He has ridden her 14 times with 7 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds. He has won five stakes on her.

Bai and Bai edged favored Somethinabout-laura, with Gonzalez making the difference. He kept Somethinaboutlaura pinned on the rail through the stretch and Bai and Bai won the one-mile race by a length.

Somethinaboutlaura, under Kyle Kaenel, stumbled leaving the gate and ran well in defeat.

The ride capped an interesting day for Kaenel, who won the third race aboard Ice Lady, even though she ducked out so badly into the lane in a one-mile optional claimer that Kaenel lost an iron.

Triple Play Race Series starts Sunday

On Sunday's card is Round 1 of the Triple Play Race Series, an open $10,000 claimer at 1o1/16 miles. The second leg is a 1 1/8-mile starter allowance on April 13, with the final leg at 1 1/4 miles open to runners who went in the first two legs.

The final race will be worth an estimated $62,000, with purses for legs one and two at $18,000 and $20,000.