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El Camino Real Derby

The history of the El Camino Real Derby can be divided into two distinct periods. The first era—the glory days—saw the race take place over 1 116 miles on dirt at Bay Meadows, which closed its doors in 2008. The second era began in 2009, when the El Camino Real Derby transitioned to the synthetic Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields and lengthened in distance to 1 18 miles.

The first running of the El Camino Real Derby took place in 1982, and the race began on a bright note when victorious Cassaleria went on to compete in the Kentucky Derby. The race achieved Grade 3 status in 1985, and with a purse as high as $300,000, it produced a steady string of nationally prominent runners. El Camino Real Derby winners Tank’s Prospect (1985) and Snow Chief (1986) nabbed victories in the Preakness (G1), while Casual Lies (1992) and Cavonnier (1996) went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby.

Even beaten runners from the El Camino Real Derby made headlines on national stages. First and foremost was 1999 runner-up Charismatic, whose subsequent victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness secured Horse of the Year honors.

But the momentum of the El Camino Real Derby slowed sharply when the race transitioned to Golden Gate Fields. One of few Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races held over a synthetic track, the race offers Derby qualification points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four finishers, but produced just four Derby starters between 2009 and 2019. None of them hit the board at Churchill Downs, which may have contributed to the race losing its graded status in 2018.

Consider the El Camino Real Derby to be a slumbering giant. With its rich history, you never know when this once-prominent prep might toss up another serious Derby contender.

By J. Keeler Johnson

El Camino Real Derby Recap

In a stirring stretch duel, Blackadder just got the better of favorite Mackinnon to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Feb. 12.

Settling midfield, Blackadder was guided through a gap three off the rail at the top of the stretch by Edwin Maldonado and set off after Mackinnon, who had gone wide on the bend searching for a run.

Mackinnon looked to have a winning break but Blackadder slowly hauled him in and took the race on Golden Gate’s Tapeta track by a neck.

The race offered points on the Road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby, but Blackadder was ineligible for points as his trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs Inc.

Mackinnon, who earlier had finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and then fourth in the Sham S. (G3) – the latter of which earned him one point on the Derby Road – earned four points for his second-place finish and advanced to five points overall.

Del Mo, like Mackinnon a runner from the Doug O’Neill stable, earned two points on the Derby Road after rallying from midfield for third placing. Il Bellator battled on after being just behind the speed to take fourth placing and earn one point.

The race hasn’t produced any horses that figured in the Kentucky Derby finish since being moved to a synthetic track in 2009, and the relevance to the 2022 Derby remains to be seen.

By Alastair Bull