Every now and then, I’ll see a young horse win for the first time and think to myself “I want to play that horse next time it runs, because I think it could be a star in the making.”
Such a horse is set to compete in the February 17th $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, that being #1 Paved. And while the circumstances aren’t quite what I expected—Paved is a filly facing colts in a Kentucky Derby prep race!—I’m going to stick by my opinion that Paved could be something special.
The simple fact is that I loved Paved’s maiden win at Santa Anita on January 6th. Coming off of two respectable third-place finishes going a mile on turf at Santa Anita and Del Mar, Paved was stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time and facing eleven rivals. She wasn’t even favored to win, but after settling about a half-dozen lengths behind the early leaders, she unleashed an eye-catching burst of speed around the far turn, roaring past her rivals and cruising through the homestretch to win by 5 ½ lengths. For good measure, she ran the final furlong in a quick :11.68 seconds and stopped the clock in 1:47.78, which translated to a huge 100 BRIS speed figure.
None of Paved’s El Camino Real Derby rivals have earned better than a 91 BRIS speed figure to date, so in terms of speed figures Paved appears to have an edge. The only major question mark in my mind is how she’ll handle the switch to the synthetic Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields, but horses with strong form on turf have performed well in recent editions of this race—in fact, five of the last seven El Camino Real Derby winners had never previously run at Golden Gate, and four of them had achieved their primary success on grass.
If Paved is as good as I think she might be, she should win this race, so I’ll take a gamble and key her in my wagers. Others I’ll include are #4 Choo Choo and #9 Mugaritz, who ran 1-2 in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields last month; the recent maiden winner #7 Epical; and #2 Blended Citizen, who finished fourth in the one-mile Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita last time out, a race in which Choo Choo finished third. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Blended Citizen will offer longer odds than the favorites, but might not need to improve that much to get on the board under jockey Kyle Frey, who won this race last year.