The prep series portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby closes out this weekend with races at Golden Gate Fields and Oaklawn Park before heading south next weekend to the Fair Grounds. Races offering 50-20-10-5 points to the top four finishers will commence with the Risen Star next Saturday.
The final two races of the prep series are the El Camino Real Derby in San Francisco on Saturday followed by a President’s Day card at Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes. These two races will wrap up the 19-race series that provided the top four finishers 10-4-2-1 points.
The El Camino is run on the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields and has drawn a large field of 14 horses looking to jump on the Derby Trail. Frank Conversation (2-1) is the morning line favorite after winning the local prep race, the California Derby in impressive fashion. Mario Gutierrez rides for trainer Doug O’Neill, neither one a stranger to the long and winding road to Louisville.
An interesting starter whose last start was up at Woodbine is Team Valor’s Kasseopia (7-2), who ran second behind Riker (trained by Fort Erie native Nick Gonzalez) in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes last October. It will be the British-bred colt’s first start of 2016 and he’s faired well on synthetic surfaces. He’s trained by Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion who clicks at a 20 percent clip off the long layoff.
Another sharp starter is the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Candy Ride colt Mr. Coker (9-2) stretches out for the first time after two solid performances at Santa Anita, breaking his maiden last month. The chestnut colt is a $300,000 Keeneland September 2014 graduate with plenty of potential. Hollendorfer is winning at a 21 percent rate when stretching out to a route from a sprint race.
On Monday at Oaklawn, another large field will tackle the Hot Springs track in search of Derby points in the $500,000 Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. The headliner is the Bob Baffert-trained Collected who won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita last month, collecting 10 Derby points for the win. Baffert decided to ship him east out of California to avoid some of his other charges currently running in the California preps.
The Southwest serves as a prelude to the two big Championship Series races held at Oaklawn, the 50-point Rebel Stakes in March and the signature race of the meet, the Arkansas Derby on April 16.
The top four finishers from the local prep, the Smarty Jones Stakes are scheduled to return in the Southwest looking to claim additional Derby points. Discreetness, Gordy Florida, Synchrony and Luna de Loco were all listed as probables by the Oaklawn racing secretary on Thursday. Three of the horses (Collected, Discreetness and Whitmore) in the race are included in the Churchill Downs' Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 that runs from noon Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Future Pool 2 includes 23 betting interests, 11 of which are new wagering selections from Pool 1. All other 3-year-olds is the morning line favorite at 4-5. In Pool 1, the same wagering option closed at 3-5. Mohaymen is the second choice favorite (8-1) among betting interests.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.