Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying points will be on the line in Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, but only two of the nine entered in the 1 1/8-mile test on the Tapeta are currently Triple Crown nominated.
One is Choo Choo, who captured last month's $100,000 California Derby in his debut over the surface as an even-money favorite. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee had previously captured just one of five starts in Southern California, but was strongly backed off a third-place effort in the $78,000 Eddie Logan at Santa Anita on the grass.
Choo Choo is a homebred racing for Calumet Farm, the historic Lexington, Kentucky, nursery that has campaigned eight Kentucky Derby winners.
Listed at 9-5 on the morning line, Choo Choo's main rival might be the filly Paved, who comes off a dominating turf maiden win at Santa Anita in her third career start. Victorious by more than five lengths, the Mike McCarthy charge was pegged at 2-1 on the early line.
Epical and Calexman, the other Triple Crown nominee, are also last-out maiden winners on the turf. While the Uncle Mo colt Epical won by a neck at first asking on January 28, Calexman will making his first start since graduating in wire-to-wire fashion at Del Mar last November.
California Derby runner-up Mugaritz and City Plan, who captured the $76,000 Gold Rush at Golden Gate two back, both have positive experience over the surface. The Doug O'Neill-trained Blended Citizen ran fourth in the Eddie Logan in his most recent start and merits a look. Could Be the One has an 8-4-3-0 mark over the track, but has not raced beyond six furlongs.
Points of 10-4-2-1 will be awarded to the top four finishers. Post time for the El Camino Real Derby is 6:45 p.m. (EST), and it can be watched and wagered on at TwinSpires.com.
(Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography)