01/22/2014 4:22PM

Santa Anita: Aotearoa to try dirt in California Cup Derby

Shigeki Kikkawa
Aotearoa wins the Zuma Beach Stakes on turf at Santa Anita in October prior to his current three-race losing streak.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Proven on turf and synthetic tracks, Aotearoa will make his first start on dirt in Saturday’s $250,000 California Cup Derby over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita.

The rich purse and a recent workout on dirt justify the risk, trainer Leonard Powell said Wednesday. Aotearoa worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds last Sunday.

“The dirt is a question, but the distance is right,” Powell said. “In the last two races, he’s run like a horse that relishes the distance.”

Owned by breeder Paul Viskovich, Aotearoa has won 2 of 6 starts and earned $138,000. Aotearoa won the Zuma Beach Stakes on turf here in October but has lost his last three starts – a seventh in the BC Juvenile Turf, a second in the Generous Stakes on turf at Hollywood Park, and a sixth in the King Glorious Stakes on the synthetic track at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22.

Aotearoa, by Good Journey, had an awkward start in the King Glorious and finished 14 1/2 lengths behind race winner California Chrome in the seven-furlong race.

“California Chrome ran a huge race last time,” Powell said.

[California Cup Day: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

California Chrome is part of the California Cup Derby field. Other contenders are Tamarando and Electric Eddie, who were first and second in the Real Quiet Stakes against open company at Hollywood Park in November. Tamarando was third in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity.

Electric Eddie finished first in a maiden race Jan. 2 but was disqualified and placed second for causing interference.

The Cal Cup Derby is one of six stakes ranging in value from $125,000 to $250,000 on Saturday. Five of the stakes are for California-breds.

The lone graded stakes is the $200,000 Santa Monica for female sprinters over seven furlongs. Teddy’s Promise, a California-bred, is expected to be favored in the Grade 2 Santa Monica.