Road To The Triple Crown: Kentucky Derby Prep Races Out West

The Road To The Triple Crown heads west this weekend, with Saturday’s El Camino Real at San Francisco’s Golden Gate track, and then on Sunday’s it’s time to head down the road to SoCal’s Santa Anita for the San Vicente. Here’s a look at both races as the Kentucky Derby hopefuls look to get the earnings necessary for a shot at Churchill Downs in May. As these go online the odds are not yet posted, which saves me from myself by forcing me to pick the best horses and not getting tempted by longshot odds…

El Camino Real (6:15 PM ET, HR-TV, TVG): It’s a ten-horse field, meaning the prices will probably be decent regardless of whom you take. Daddy Nose Best has the best jockey/trainer combo in Julian Leparoux, who’s already won a Derby Prep aboard Battle Hardened, and Steve Asmussen is one of the country’s top trainers, who can be best identified to the public at-large as the trainer of Rachel Alexandra, the filly who won the ’09 Preakness. The horse the Leparoux/Asmussen team has on Saturday is a known commodity, who’s run several races and finished anywhere from third to sixth against stakes completion. If the odds are 6-1 or higher it’s worthwhile just because of the jockey and trainer, but not at any lower than that. Unveiled Heat is another horse with a lengthy resume, but no record of success in big races.

All three horses that finished in the money at the California Derby on this same track are on hand for this one. Senor Rain came in third, and also has two wins and two seconds in seven other non-descript races. Cahill Chrome’s gone to the post ten times and been consistent, but nothing really stood out until he finished second in the Derby. Russian Greek won the state’s namesake race, one of two consecutive stakes victories. The horse, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, a respected name in the West, has won 3 of his career 4 starts and you have to like his chances on Saturday.

Doug O’Neill is another respected trainer and he’s got Handsome Mike, who’s finished fourth and seventh in two stakes races. The good news is that the resume isn’t long enough to rule this horse out. I’m guessing he won’t get much of a look from bettors, meaning this could be a longshot possibility (if I wanted to sound like a horse racing degenerate I’d say “the public won’t give him a tumble”, but I like to talk normal). A potential rising star is Rockinar Recruit, who’s never run a stakes race, but has finished in the money three of his four trips to the post and won once. Now let’s see how he fares against better competition. In a similar category is All Squared Away, who’s won 4 of 5 in off-Broadway races.

My own personal favorite is the horse shipped in from Ireland, Lucky Chappy, ridden by New York jockey Javier Castellano. This horse finished fourth in a Breeders’ Cup race last November and second at a stakes race in Gulfstream, a Florida track that attracts good quality. Lucky Chappy’s got wins in Milan and Rome that I’m not sure what to make of, but we can conclude this—given how expensive shipping a horse all over the world is, the owners must believe in him.

Finally we come to the filly, Lady Of Fifty, also trained by Hollendorfer, and won her last three races, all stakes. I don’t know about you but this looks like a winner to me. I’ll take Lady of Fifty to win, and fill out the top three with Lucky Chappy and Russian Greek. Then if Daddy Nose Best goes off at 6-1 or higher take a small saver bet on him.

San Vicente Stakes (6:30 PM ET Sunday, HR-TV, TVG): It’s only a six-horse field in Santa Anita and I would have to think Creative Cause will come in as the favorite. With top West Coast jockey Joel Rosario in the saddle, Creative Cause has won 3 of 5 career races, and finished a solid third in last year’s Breeders Cup. He hasn’t run since the Breeders in November, and I don’t know if that makes him rested or rusty. But he’s clearly got the chops to do it. It’s also worth noting that Rosario opted ride Creative Cause rather than Captain Obvious, an Irish import he also rides and is entered in this race. The latter has run two stakes race and finished 4th and 2nd, so it’s not as though he’s chopped liver.

Smoking G & American Act are basically indistinguishable. Each has run three non-descript races, won once, finished second once and ran off the board the third time. Let’s Get Crackin’ has run ten races in his career, mostly at minor tracks. He stepped into the San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita three weeks ago and finished third, so this could be a live contender.

Finally we come to Drill, whose ridden by Martin Garcia and trained by Bob Baffert. You may recall that Baffert made a last-minute decision at the 2010 Preakness to give Garcia the reins of Lookin’ At Lucky after award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez had run poor with Lucky at the Kentucky Derby. Garcia vindicated the trainer by winning the second leg of the Triple Crown. Now Drill is struggling, having run in five consecutive stakes races and fared poorly in the last four. Maybe it’s time for Baffert to reverse field and call Gomez to snap the losing streak.

I’ll take the chalk and say Creative Cause wins it. If I wanted to go for a price, take a flyer Let’s Get Crackin with the usual stipulation of 5-1 or better. But I doubt in a six-horse field there will be much in the way of odds here.

Monday is usually a day off at the race tracks, but with it being President’s Day, the tracks are open and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas hosts the Southwest Stakes, another Derby Prep. I had hoped to preview it here, but the entries aren’t online at as of this writing, Friday 1 PM ET.