Bob and Cathy Zollars' Daddy Nose Best outdueled Lucky Chappy after a stretch-long drive in Saturday's Grade 3, $201,300 El Camino Real Derby, prevailing in the tightest-ever finish to Golden Gate Fields' signature prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Daddy Nose Best was handing trainer Steve Asmussen his second straight El Camino Real trophy. Interestingly, he was following the same path taken by 2011 winner Silver Medallion. Both were coming off the Eddie Logan Stakes over the Santa Anita turf, but with one significant difference: Silver Medallion was exiting a win, while Daddy Nose Best was rebounding from a disappointing fifth as the 4-5 favorite on New Year's Eve.
Regular rider Julien Leparoux wasn't dissuaded, however, and made the trek to stick with Daddy Nose Best, who was dispatched as the 4-1 third choice. Breaking from the rail, the Scat Daddy colt was reserved just off the contested pace.
Up front, 2-1 favorite Handsome Mike was arguing with 94-1 longshot All Squared Away through fractions of :23 1/5, :47 2/5 and 1:12 1/5. Daddy Nose Best was clearly full of run rounding the far turn, but had to bide his time. He was momentarily pocketed by the leaders and by the filly Lady of Fifty on his outside.
Meanwhile, Lucky Chappy was making eye-catching progress from well back. Off a beat slow as usual, Lucky Chappy was content to settle at the rear until the far turn, when he circled the field in a bold move.
As Lucky Chappy rolled up widest of all, Daddy Nose Best angled off the fence and muscled his way through between horses. Handsome Mike had put away his longtime rival, but had no resistance left to offer the closers.
Daddy Nose Best and Lucky Chappy separated themselves from the rest of the field and engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball battle. Neither gave an inch, but Daddy Nose Best appeared to be marginally ahead. Although Lucky Chappy's high head carriage didn't help him as they reached for the wire, he too stretched as best he could and just missed by a nose.
The winning margin was the closest in the race's history. The next-closest had come in 1999 at the El Camino's former home of Bay Meadows, where Cliquot bested Charismatic by a head.
Daddy Nose Best covered 1 1/8 miles on Tapeta in 1:50 2/5 and paid $10.20, $5.40 and $3.60. His first career stakes victory increased his bankroll to $233,623 from his 9-3-2-1 record.
Lucky Chappy, the 5-2 second choice, was expected to use the El Camino Real Derby as a stepping stone to the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby at Meydan on March 31. Should he keep those travel plans, the Graham Motion trainee would accompany his Kentucky Derby-winning stablemate Animal Kingdom, who is headed for the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on the same day.
The top two pulled 3 1/2 lengths clear of third-placer Handsome Mike. Next came Unveiled Heat, Russian Greek, Lady of Fifty, All Squared Away, Rockinarz Recruit, Senor Rain and Cahill Chrome.
Daddy Nose Best was runner-up to subsequent Grade 3 victor Exfactor in his debut sprinting on the dirt at Churchill Downs. After flopping in his next try, the bay switched to turf and soon prospered. Daddy Nose Best broke his maiden in his second turf attempt at Saratoga, and got up for third in the Grade 3 Summer Stakes at Woodbine. A better-than-appears sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, he romped in a Churchill Downs allowance before showing little in the Eddie Logan.
Bred by Patricia Ann Elia Trust in Kentucky, Daddy Nose Best didn't sell when bringing a bid of $34,000 as a weanling at Keeneland November. At the same venue the following September, he went to his current owners for $35,000. He is out of the Thunder Gulch mare Follow Your Bliss, and his second dam is Grade 2 winner Follow the Money.