COUNTDOWN REWIND: EL CAMINO REAL DERBY
By Jeremy Plonk
Date: Saturday, February 16, 2013
Track: Golden Gate Fields
Kentucky Derby Points Awarded: 10-4-2-1
Distance: 1 1/8 miles (2 turns) on Tapeta
HANDICAPPERS’ RECAP: Despite wins in the two main local preps, the public opted against ZEEWAT (Jerry Hollendorfer) as the favorite for Northern California’s steppingstone to the Derby. Instead, the choice was MANANDO (Bob Baffert), third in the Grade 2 Sham at a mile. Neither delivered to expectations as the stakes debuting DICE FLAVOR (Paddy Gallagher) invaded from Santa Anita to win his first start away from the turf in come-from-behind style. Baffert also misfired with third choice CARVING, who vied for favoritism throughout, but also failed to finish in the money. It would be the only Triple Crown prep on the holiday weekend to elude Baffert, who notched the Grade 2 San Vicente with SHAKIN IT UP and the Grade 3 Southwest with SUPER NINETY NINE.
ON THE CLOCK: The early pace set by MANANDO was nothing short of ridiculous, and he staggered home last after an opening half-mile of 47.34, the only route race on the card to break 50 seconds for the half-mile split. The race slowed in fractions of 23.10, 24.24, 24.33, 26.76 and 13.02 the final furlong. That means the final three-eighths barely shaded 40 seconds. Winner DICE FLAVOR made up 9-1/2 lengths over that span, which puts him in the low 38s, a solid closing split for him. It was such a pace meltdown that the top two made up at least 10 lengths apiece at some stage of the race. Runner-up NINA’S DRAGON followed DICE FLAVOR much of the way. The final time of 1:51.45 ranks the slowest of five renewals of this race since going to 1 1/8 miles.
THE EYE TEST: Trip handicappers and jockey bashers will have a field day with this one as Hall of Fame rider Russell Baze had ZEEWAT in a world of trouble, while Aaron Gryder seemed to lose track of time on the front with MANANDO. Most of the field played bumper cars from the quarter-pole to the furlong marker, including the eventual winner, DICE FLAVOR, who moved in tandem with ZEEWAT, but he discovered a seam after bumping that his rival could not. When finally loose in the final yards, DICE FLAVOR bounded out impressively to this eye and was really bounding and reaching nicely. He galloped out playfully and happily like a horse who was pleased with his work, and he should be. This was a nice win, albeit not particularly fast or against top horses.
PROJECTING THE EL CAMINO REAL DERBY FORWARD: As a son of Scat Daddy, there is reason to think the pedigree of DICE FLAVOR won’t be limiting in terms of trying the dirt. But with more brilliant dirt horses awaiting the nine-furlong final preps, taking the path to Turfway or Keeneland may be best for DICE FLAVOR if his connections want to try the Triple Crown. He’s not nominated at this stage, but that could change. Runner-up NINA’S DRAGON also would have to be a late nominee to the Triple Crown, and, in fact, none of the top four finishers in this race were nominees. Therefore, no points were awarded in Kentucky Derby qualifying, though if late nominated, the points would count retroactive for that horse. ZEEWAT probably deserves another shot in the Polytrack stakes in Kentucky.