Herb Moniz found a bargain in Camino del Paraiso. He’s hoping that his turf star can deliver the biggest thrill of his racing career in Saturday’s $200,000 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields.
“Our ranch is Paradise Road,” said Moniz, who lived in Sacramento and Orangevale for many years. “That’s what (Camino del Paraiso) means, too. So, he’s always been special to us.”
The longtime thoroughbred owner bought the bay as a yearling at the 2014 California Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s Northern California auction for only $5,000. So far, “Camino” has earned just shy of $200,000.
“He’s a very easy horse to work with,” trainer O.J. Jauregui said. “He’s very talented with a lot of ability. Hopefully, he can run to his full potential.”
Camino del Paraiso faces a field of 12 for the San Francisco Mile, Northern California’s most prestigious stakes. The expected favorite is 2016 El Camino Real Derby winner Frank Conversation, trained by Doug O’Neill. Post time for the Grade III stakes is about 4 p.m.
Dating back to 1948, the San Francisco Mile also marks a return to turf stakes racing at Golden Gate. Newly reseeded and lush green, the grass course reopened to racing Friday.
A lifelong fan, Moniz bought his first racehorse 22 years ago.
“I was born and raised in Hawaii on a dairy farm,” he said. “All my uncles were into racing, so that’s how I learned about the sport. We moved to Pleasanton, (home of the Alameda County fairgrounds). I worked at the track; hot walking, whatever job I could get. It was fun.”
After graduating from San Francisco State, Moniz spent nearly 40 years in municipal government including almost a decade as director of the Mission Oaks Recreation and Parks District in Carmichael. He retired in 2011 as city manager of San Ramon.
Before his retirement, Moniz started Paradise Road Ranch near Lathrop. But water woes recently squeezed him out of the breeding business.
“We lost our water (rights),” he said. “Development caught up with us, so we were forced to close. I sold off all our mares and yearlings. I just sold our last truck. I’m down to five horses, all in training.”
Not only the ranch’s namesake, Camino del Paraiso ranks as his all-time best horse, Moniz said. He co-owns the gelding with Glen Road Racing.
Camino del Paraiso, a son of Suances, finished sixth in last year’s San Francisco Mile. A late runner, he has come close to stakes victory several times.
In his last start Jan. 27, the 5-year-old gelding overcame a troubled trip, clipping heels on the far turn, to lead in deep stretch in the Unusual Heat Turf Classic at Santa Anita, only to get caught by Rye a few yards from the wire.
Before that, he rallied from 11th to finish third in Golden Gate’s Berkeley Handicap on Nov. 25.
“In the Berkeley, he started from the No. 14 (post) and ran 14 horses wide into the turn,” Jauregui said. “He was eight wide on the far turn and yet only lost by a couple of lengths.”
“He’s been a very unlucky horse his last four races,” Moniz added. “This is it; all we need is a clean trip.”