Friday, January 13, 2012

California Derby Racing Roundup

Trainer Michael Machowsky, looking for his first win in the $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields this Saturday, enlists the services of Hall of Fame Jockey Russell Baze to ride Hodge, the 9-5 morning favorite in the 97th edition of the 8½-furlong stakes race.

Baze and the late Johnny Longden, a Hall of Fame jockey whose career spanned three decades from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, have won the California Derby a record five times. While a good jockey can elevate a horse’s performance, Hodge has not raced in 51 days and this is his first attempt at covering a route of ground.

After stalking the leader in second-place, Hodge held on to finish third 1¾-lengths behind So Brilliant, winner of the 7-furlong Hollywood Prevue Stakes (G3) at Hollywood Park on November 24. While Hodge may be competitive in the Derby, I’m not so sure 8½-furlongs is his best distance and there are others I like better in this race.

Russian Greek, the 5-2 morning line second choice, comes into the race with a first-place finish in the Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on December 10. I like the grit and determination he showed in that race. Russian Greek rallied from the back of the six-horse field and made a nice surge on the inside rail to get up and win by a neck.

Russian Greek now has two wins and a fifth-place finish in three starts and another move forward off of his last race will make him very competitive.

Russian Greek was sired by Giant’s Causeway, who also sired Battle Force, a young colt I profiled in my 2012 Kentucky Derby Outlook.

As a 2-year-old, Giant’s Causeway was undefeated in three starts (all at 7-furlongs) winning the Group 3 Futurity Stakes and the Group 1 Prix de la Salamandre Stakes. As a 3-year-old, Giant’s Causeway was 6-4-0 in 10 starts, winning from 7- to 10-furlongs and he was the 2000 Cartier Racing Awards European Horse of the Year.

Grindstone, the damsire of Russian Greek, won the Louisiana Derby (G2) and finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) en route to victory in the 1996 Kentucky Derby (G1). Grindstone is the sire of the 2004 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Birdstone and he is the grandsire of the 2009 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Summer Bird.

Alydar, the sire of Russian Greek’s second dam, most likely would have been the 1978 Triple Crown winner if it had not been for the tenacious victor Affirmed whose duels with Alydar on the road to glory are some of the best in racing history.

The tail female line also has some nice influence. Sand Dollar, the dam of Russian Greek, was not much of a racer but second dam Train Robbery was a multiple stakes winner as well as the third dam, Track Robbery, who was a multiple graded stakes winner of races such as the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) and Spinster Stakes (G1) with over $1 million in career earnings.

Russian Greek is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer who holds a record four wins in the California Derby.

Two long shots I like are Reconstruction (8-1), another entry by Hollendorfer, and Unveiled Heat (12-1).

Reconstruction has never been out of the money in three starts and appears to be one of the more consistent colts among this group. He broke his maiden last time out by 1¼-lengths and another move forward off of that effort should make him competitive.

Reconstruction has never run in a route race, but with Broken Vow as his sire and Dixieland Band as the damsire, he should be able to handle the 8½-furlongs of the Derby.

Broken Vow was a competitive middle-distance runner who won such races as the 9-furlong Philip H. Iselin Handicap (G2) and Ben Ali Stakes (G3) and sired the outstanding middle-distance runner Unbridled Belle who had over $1.9 million in career earnings.

Dixieland Band also was a decent middle-distance runner and the damsire of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

Unveiled Heat is the only young colt in the field that has won at 8½-furlongs. He appears to be an improving colt that finally broke his maiden last time out after seven previous attempts. His last two races have been pretty decent and he retains the services of jockey Abel Cedillo who has a 1-2-0 record in four previous mounts on Unveiled Heat.

If Unveiled Heat continues to improve, he could be competitive at a nice price.

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