Metaboss an Intriguing Longshot in El Camino Real Derby

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

Following the incredible racing action of last Saturday, it’s only natural that things should slow down a bit this weekend, although looking at the stakes schedule, it still looks like we’re in for some excellent days of racing! Highlighting the Saturday action is the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields, an official Kentucky Derby prep race offering a total of 17 points to the top four finishers. A very competitive field of 10 has been entered in this nine-furlong race, and it looks like a very appealing betting race for those in search of value. So let’s take a look at who’s running!

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Donji P. Terrero Reina Gonzalez 3rd Maiden Claiming
2 Indianaughty Corey Lanerie Dale Romans 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
3 Metaboss Alex Solis Jeff Bonde 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
4 Ernest Shackleton Drayden Van Dyke Doug O’Neill 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
5 Cross the Line J. Hernandez Jerry Hollendorfer 1st California Derby (VIDEO)
6 Harmonic R. Gonzalez Jerry Hollendorfer 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
7 Soul Driver D. Carr Jeff Mullins 2nd California Derby (VIDEO)
8 Stand and Salute Russell Baze Jerry Gollendorfer 3rd California Derby (VIDEO)
9 Conquest Typhoon Mike Smith Mark Casse 1st Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
10 Mischief Clem Kent Desormeaux Robert Hess, Jr. 1st California Cup Derby (VIDEO)

One important factor to consider when handicapping the El Camino Real Derby is that the race is held on the synthetic Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields, and since the race was moved from Bay Meadows to Golden Gate in 2009, every winner of the El Camino Real Derby had demonstrated good form on synthetic and/or turf prior to winning the race. But somewhat surprisingly, specific experience on the Tapeta at Golden Gate has not been a prerequisite for winning the race. Although the local runners have outnumbered the shippers almost every year, the last four winners of the race prepped at Santa Anita, as did the 2009 runner-up.

I mention this because it has been my tendency in recent years—without much success—to favor horses that prepped at Golden Gate, so this year, I’m going to try and beat the locals. That’s not to say that they’re not a talented group—there’s Jerry Hollendorfer’s promising colt Cross the Line, who won the California Derby by nearly two lengths over Soul Driver and stablemate Stand and Salute (both of which will return in the El Camino Real Derby), and there’s also Harmonic, who broke his maiden fifth time out for Hollendorfer going nine furlongs at Golden Gate. Of the quartet, I narrowly prefer Stand and Salute, who rallied very wide in the California Derby after dropping farther back than usual early on. But in the absence of a standout local runner, and considering that none of them have run particularly fast in terms of Beyer speed figures, I think the shippers will have the edge on Saturday.

One colt that really intrigues me is Conquest Typhoon, who has finished second in a pair of stakes on the Polytrack at Woodbine, including the Grey Stakes (gr. III) won by International Star. On turf, Conquest Typhoon has compiled an excellent record, winning the Summer Stakes (gr. II) and the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (gr. III), in addition to placing a close fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I). I was particularly impressed by his performance in the Cecil B. DeMille, as Conquest Typhoon was well back early before exploding down the homestretch to win by a half-length while running the final quarter-mile in about:23 flat! It’s stretch-running turf form like this that has done well in the El Camino Real Derby, with recent winners Dice Flavor and Daddy Nose Best demonstrating similar form prior to their victories at Golden Gate. I see no reason why Conquest Typhoon can’t stretch out to nine furlongs, and with a quintet of excellent workouts at Santa Anita under his belt since the start of the year, I believe Conquest Typhoon is going to turn in a very big effort this Saturday.

I also really like the chances of Metaboss, who finished second to the very talented Bolo in an 8.5-furlong maiden special weight on the Del Mar turf on November 29th. Although no match for Bolo that day, Metaboss returned on January 4th to win a nine-furlong maiden race on the Santa Anita turf by 1 ½ lengths while running his final furlong about :11 2/5. His strong late kick and proven ability at nine furlongs is a powerful combination, and in the event that Conquest Typhoon is heavily bet on Saturday (a possibility given his stakes-winning credentials), I would be more than willing to try playing Metaboss on top. In fact, in anticipation of better value, I will make Metaboss my official selection to win this race.

Another logical contender is Indianaughty, who broke his maiden second-time out over the synthetic track at Lingfield in England, winning a seven-furlong maiden race by five lengths while carrying 131 pounds. Subsequently bought by Team Valor International and transferred to the barn of Dale Romans, Indianaughty returned to action on January 14th at Gulfstream Park, rallying impressively to win an 8.5-furlong allowance race on the turf by a head. Because the turf course was wet that day, and thus not very quick, it’s difficult to say if Indianaughty’s late run is as strong as those of Conquest Typhoon and Metaboss, but his proven form on synthetic is appealing, and it’s nice to see jockey Corey Lanerie stick with this colt for the cross-country journey.

I would also like to briefly mention Mischief Clem, who won the January 24th California Cup Derby at Santa Anita by a head. His performance was an admirable one, but he also benefitted from the fact that race favorites Acceptance and Tough Sunday both failed to fire while suffering injuries, and it’s also important to note that the California Cup Derby was run on dirt. Although Mischief Clem has compiled a respectable record on synthetic, breaking his maiden at Del Mar by 7 ¼ lengths and finishing second by a head in a six-furlong allowance race, I believe that Mischief Clem is superior as a dirt horse and may not relish the switch to Tapeta. Additionally, he has drawn the far outside post position and may have to be urged early to avoid getting hung wide on the first turn.

So to recap, I like Metaboss and Conquest Typhoon best, with a slight preference for the former in anticipation of better value, with Stand and Salute, Cross the Line, and Indianaughty being my selections to round out the exotics.

There’s one other official Kentucky Derby prep race on the schedule this week, that being the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park. The race is expected to draw an exceptional field of talented runners, and I will be handicapping the race in a new blog post on Saturday evening. Until then, who do you like in the El Camino Real Derby?


In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

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