At first glance, Saturday’s $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields might not seem like a nationally influential race. It’s not a graded stakes race, its purse is modest, and it’s held over a synthetic Tapeta track rather than a more common dirt or turf surface.
But appearances can be deceiving, and in fact, the El Camino Real Derby is a significant prep race on the Triple Crown trail. In addition to offering 10 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying points to the winner, the 1 1/8-mile race awards a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Preakness Stakes, provided the winner is nominated to the Triple Crown.
Speaking of which, just three of the 11 horses entered in the El Camino Real Derby are nominated to the spring classics. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that these three runners—#9 Azul Coast, #10 Czechmight, and #11 The Stiff—also appear to be the top three contenders.
Azul Coast has already gained recognition on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Conditioned by two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert, Azul Coast secured four Kentucky Derby qualifying points when finishing a distant second behind stablemate Authentic in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
But it’s worth noting Baffert doesn’t typically target the El Camino Real Derby with his best colts. Since the race moved to Golden Gate Fields in 2009, Baffert has gone 0-for-4, with only one starter (2019 runner-up Kingly) managing to finish in the top three.
Also concerning is Azul Coast’s running style. The son of Super Saver doesn’t have any tactical speed and prefers to trail early on, which puts him at a disadvantage against more versatile rivals who can race near the front or gain position through quick bursts of speed. Also, Azul Coast has never run on Tapeta, so the surface is a question mark too.
All this isn’t to say Azul Coast can’t vie for victory in the El Camino Real Derby; in terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, he’s the fastest horse in the field. But since he’ll be a short price in the wagering, there won’t be much value in playing him on top.
A more appealing alternative is The Stiff, who hails from the barn of Michael McCarthy. No trainer has been hotter at Golden Gate Fields over the last six months, a time period that has seen McCarthy go 9-for-20, with another eight runners finishing in the top three. That’s a 45% win rate, and McCarthy has been even more successful since the end of December, going 3-for-4.
One of those victories came courtesy of The Stiff. After showcasing a decent turn of foot running long on both dirt and turf in Southern California, The Stiff shipped north to Golden Gate Fields and obviously enjoyed the chance to race on Tapeta. The son of Danza unleashed a strong finish in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Jan. 19, gaining 2 1/2 lengths in the final furlong to prevail by a neck.
The Stiff has shown a bit more tactical speed than Azul Coast, and his proven affinity for Tapeta is a big advantage in his favor. With a clean trip from the far outside post, The Stiff can get the jump on Azul Coast and out-sprint his more heralded rival to the finish line.
We’ll also respect the chances of Czechmight, a gate-to-wire maiden winner running 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland in October. A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Czechmight has been training strongly at Santa Anita for Richard Baltas, most recently firing off a blazing half-mile in :47.40 on Feb. 8. In a race that isn’t exactly stacked with front-runners, Czechmight could potentially shake loose on an easy lead and forget to stop in the homestretch.
Let’s plan on placing two El Camino Real Derby wagers this Saturday. We’ll begin by betting The Stiff to win, since he figures to start at a fair price in the wagering. Then we’ll bet him on top of an exacta while using Azul Coast and Czechmight for second place.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$12 to win on #11 The Stiff
What to say at the betting window: Golden Gate Fields, 7th race, $12 to win on 11
$4 exacta: 11 with 9,10 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Golden Gate Fields, 7th race, $4 exacta 11 with 9,10
Good luck, and enjoy the race!