Only a handful of Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve qualifiers take place over synthetic tracks. One of them is the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby, contested over the Tapeta course at Golden Gate Fields.
The El Camino Real Derby hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner since it shifted from defunct Bay Meadows to Golden Gate Fields in 2009, but that doesn’t mean the 1 1/8-mile race is irrelevant. To the contrary, the El Camino Real Derby awards Derby qualification points to its top five finishers on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis, and 2021 winner Rombauer went on to claim victory in the 2021 Preakness Stakes. The El Camino Real Derby offers an automatic berth in the Preakness starting gate to the race winner.
Eight horses have been entered in the 2023 El Camino Real Derby this Saturday, including two Triple Crown nominees from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Horses trained by Baffert are currently ineligible to earn Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points, but Baffert has won two of the last three editions of the El Camino Real Derby with Azul Coast (2020) and Blackadder (2022), so his two runners warrant respect on Saturday.
The first of the Baffert trainees is #1 Gilmore, who is arguably the horse to beat. A son of Twirling Candy (coincidentally the sire of Rombauer), Gilmore ran well in his debut sprinting at Del Mar last fall, unleashing a big late rally from midfield to finish third by three-quarters of a length.
Gilmore subsequently thrived when stretching out for a one-mile maiden special weight at Los Alamitos. The gray colt settled in midfield early on, advanced to second place at the halfway point, and eventually took command to dominate by four lengths. This runaway victory was flattered when the distant runner-up, Roll On Big Joe, returned to win his next start.
Gilmore has the pedigree to shine while switching to Tapeta, and he enters off a sharp series of workouts including a blazing five furlongs in :58 4/5 on Jan. 14 at Santa Anita. In short, what’s not to like? Gilmore is a logical choice to visit the winner’s circle.
The second Baffert trainee, #8 Nullarbor, is going to be a bigger price in the betting. He showed early speed in his first two starts against maiden special weight company, but faltered on both occasions to finish eighth by wide margins. Dropping in class for a maiden optional claiming sprint at Santa Anita triggered a turnaround, as Nullarbor led all the way to score by 3 3/4 lengths, but it’s unclear how the son of Candy Ride will handle jumping up in class and distance for the El Camino Real Derby.
On the bright side, hot jockey Assael Espinoza (a 23% winner at Golden Gate since Dec. 26) is named to ride, and the fact Nullarbor is a Triple Crown nominee is encouraging. There may be more to this improving colt than first meets the eye.
Among the local runners with Tapeta experience, #4 Passarando and #2 Chase the Chaos are obvious contenders. They ran first and second in the one-mile Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate in December, with Passarando outkicking his key rival to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths. But whereas Passarando returned to finish third in the California Cup Derby on dirt at Santa Anita, Chase the Chaos subsequently smashed a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Golden Gate Fields, rallying from midfield to dominate by 7 1/2 lengths. Chase the Chaos is progressing in the right direction and may be capable of turning the tables on Passarando in the El Camino Real Derby.
We also have to highlight #5 Harcyn as a key contender. The Steve Sherman trainee is unbeaten in two starts, winning a maiden special weight and an allowance optional claimer sprinting at Golden Gate Fields. Harcyn has never been headed and won both of his starts with ease, so it’s clear he has talent and might be something special.
So how should we take all these opinions and turn them into betting strategies for the El Camino Real Derby? We’ll start by keying Gilmore on top of exacta and trifecta tickets. Underneath, we’ll emphasize #4 Passarando, #2 Chase the Chaos, and #5 Harcyn while adding #8 Nullarbor for third place.
Wagering Strategy on a $12 Budget
$4 exacta: 1 with 2,4,5 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Golden Gate Fields, 8th race, $4 exacta 1 with 2,4,5
Wagering Strategy on a $36 Budget
$6 exacta: 1 with 2,4,5 ($18)
What to say at the betting window: Golden Gate Fields, 8th race, $6 exacta 1 with 2,4,5
$2 trifecta: 1 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5,8 ($18)
What to say at the betting window: Golden Gate Fields, 8th race, $2 trifecta 1 with 2,4,5 with 2,4,5,8
Good luck and enjoy the race!
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