02/14/2013 2:39PM

Turf Paradise: Derive must prove himself again in Phoenix Gold Cup

Coady Photography
Derive was in top form when he won the Phoenix Gold Cup and Coyote (above) last spring. He enters Saturday's running of the Phoenix Gold Cup off two losses.

PHOENIX – Last year Derive came into the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, the marquee event of the Turf Paradise meet, riding high off a four-race win streak. A game win in the Gold Cup sealed his Horse of the Meet honors. The 7-year-old gelding returns Saturday to defend his title, but his position atop the local heap is much more precarious this time.

The six-furlong Gold Cup is part of a stakes tripleheader Saturday. It goes as race 8 with a field of nine. The card also features the $35,000 Turf Paradise Handicap (race 4) and $35,000 Sun City Handicap (race 7).

Derive, owned by Rick Wiest and trained by Robertino Diodoro, has been the local kingpin since the fall of 2011. He won all five starts during the 2011-2012 meet, including not only his nose win over Absolutely Cool in the Gold Cup but also the Swift and the Coyote Handicap. After a summer vacation he returned here and seemingly picked right up, winning an optional claimer Oct. 22. However, suddenly the crown doesn’t rest so easily. He dueled for the lead and ran second, beaten a nose by Absolutely Cool, in the Caballos del Sol Dec. 8. He dueled for the lead again in an optional claimer Jan. 4 and finished second again, this time to King of the Sky. He faces both again here.

By no means did he run poorly, but the two losses raise the question of whether he’s as good now as he was before. Regular rider Jorge Carreno is up at 122 pounds.

The highweight at 123 pounds is invader Safe Trip. Trained by Weston Martin, the 6-year-old gelding has knocked heads with toughies all over the country including Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, and New Jersey. Most recently he found his stride in New Mexico, and he comes here riding a three-race winning streak. He won the Premier Cup at Zia Park Sept. 9 and easily won an allowance race there Oct. 23. He was laid off and came back to win the KLAQ Handicap at Sunland Park Dec. 8. He hasn’t run since but is proven fresh, and Miguel Hernandez, who was aboard for those three wins, rides again.

L.A. Weekend, from the same owner-trainer as Derive, is a scary new face. A multiple winner on the Southern California circuit he comes here off a romping 5 3/4-length win at Sunland Park Jan. 12. The horse he easily beat back into second, Streakin’ Mohican, came back to win the Swift Stakes here Feb. 1. Streakin’ Mohican is a big threat again here.

Absolutely Cool was a superb second in this race last year, dueling with Derive every step of the way before finishing second, beaten a nose. This meet he beat Derive while winning the Caballos del Sol here Dec. 8 and rallied well from far back to be third to Streakin’ Mohican in the Swift Feb. 1.

Green Secret looks tough

Green Secret looms the favorite against five others in the Turf Paradise Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. A 9-year-old gelding owned by Mark Breen and trained by Kevin Eikleberry, Green Secret won three straight grass races this fall and winter, one at Santa Anita and then two here. He was second, beaten a neck in the Cotton Fitzsimmons on this course Jan. 12 and returns here after running third in a Santa Anita grass stakes Feb. 3. Eight of his 11 grass wins have come on this course.

The main danger figures to be Why Not Be Perfect, an easy winner on grass here Nov. 10 and of the Hank Mills Sr. on dirt here Dec. 22. He looks to rebound after running sixth in the Fitzsimmons.

Sun City a rematch of Glendale

The top three finishes from the Glendale Handicap run here Feb. 2 – Smarty B, Racing for Gold, and E Z Kitty – knock heads again in the Sun City Handicap. The mile grass event for fillies and mares drew a field of seven.

Smarty B continues her superb form for trainer Dan McFarlane, winning five of her last six including the Chandler. In the Glendale, she rallied from far back to nip Racing for Gold by a nose.

Racing for Gold continues to knock on the door, though she’s finished behind Smart B in three recent grass starts and behind E Z Kitty on dirt.

E Z Kitty is generally recognized as the top dirt distaffer on the grounds, and she showed a new dimension when a sharp third, beaten less than a length, on turf in the Glendale.