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Asmussen, Baffert enjoy prep playgrounds

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

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Trainer Steve Asmussen, shown at Gulfstream Park in 2018, has dominated the Remington Springboard Mile, in which he has Cowan and Saffa’s Day entered Friday night. (Ron Flatter photo)

Las Vegas

If the Los Alamitos Futurity and Remington Springboard Mile were college basketball games, they would resemble what Jim Boeheim has scheduled for years at Syracuse. To Hall of Fame trainers Steve Asmussen and Bob Baffert their rivals must look like Colgate or Holy Cross or Niagara.

How great would it be if Dick Vitale were yelling “Cupcake City” into a microphone as he called these Kentucky Derby points preps?

They really have turned into the Baffert and Asmussen invitationals, haven’t they? Asmussen will be trying for his third consecutive Springboard Mile win Friday night and his seventh overall at the Oklahoma track where he has more career victories than any other trainer. Baffert will try to win for the seventh time in what is really the seventh running of the Los Al Futurity, which he has won every fall since it was moved from Hollywood Park.

Asmussen beats the odds

Never mind that Asmussen’s two starters in the $200,000 Springboard Mile – Cowan (4-1) and Saffa’s Day (10-1) – are not the morning-line favorite Friday at 11:28 p.m. EST. His three winners in the ’10s were not either, and public betting was not contradictory. Last year Shoplifted at 4-1 upset Brad Cox’s 3-5 favorite Answer In. Two years ago Long Range Toddy scored at 18-1. In 2014, Bayerd was the 5-2 second choice on the morning line and at post time before he upset his rival Shotgun Kowboy.

This year Wesley Ward has the presumptive favorite in the field of 11. Racing for the first time on the dirt, on Lasix and without blinkers, Outadore (3-1) set the pace and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, which was run over a mile last month at Keeneland. He was 2-for-2 in turf sprints before that, and he had a bullet work over the main track at Keeneland last week. Outadore also gets David Cabrera, who is about to win a third straight autumn riding title at Remington Park.

Cowan also leaves the grass, on which he finished second to Golden Pal in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. He lost to Outadore three months ago in a wet 6½-furlong stakes at Kentucky Downs. His only win, in fact, was a 4½-furlong maiden dirt dash at Churchill Downs in May. But he is a closer, so the added distance will help, and so might pacesetting stablemate Saffa’s Day. Second-leading Remington Park rider Stewart Elliott, still most famous for riding Smarty Jones 16 years ago, will be aboard Cowan for the first time.

If two horses coming off the turf do not appeal, then maybe Joe Frazier (5-1) does. This Distorted Humor colt trained by Cox is a maiden winner that could not hold the lead in the Churchill Downs slop nearly four weeks ago, finishing a distant third in that 8½ -furlong allowance race. He gets Lasix for the first time, and with Cox he has a trainer who has a 37 percent success rate with second-time route starters.

Despite starting in post 10, Joe Frazier will be the one I key with Cowan, Outadore and course horse Red N Wild (12-1) boxed into exotics.

The weather is forecast to be cloudy with a post-time temperature of 44 and a homestretch headwind of up to 10 mph after gusting to 40 mph during the day.

Spielberg or bust for Baffert

The same partners who campaigned Authentic to a certain championship this year spent $1 million on a colt that has not lived up to expectations. Saturday may mark a last chance for Spielberg to prove he deserves high hopes when he faces five rivals in the $200,000 Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity.

Sired by Union Rags and foaled by the Smart Strike mare Miss Sequel, Spielberg needed four races to break his maiden. He finally did it by a neck as a 9-10 favorite in a $57,000 mile last month at Del Mar. Baffert brought him back two weeks later, when he fizzled as a 3-5 favorite and finished fourth in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes.

Red Flag won the Bob Hope by 7¼ lengths for trainer John Shirreffs. That got futures bettors investing in him for the Kentucky Derby with Circa Sports and William Hill Nevada shortening him to 35-1. With Víctor Espinoza riding from post 1, the 8½ furlongs at Los Al will be mark Red Flag’s first time going beyond a sprint, something that Spielberg has done twice.

Petruchio merits a look coming off the turf for trainer Richard Mandella. He broke his maiden last out seven weeks ago racing a mile at Del Mar, where he lost by only a neck one start earlier. He was 0-for-3 with Flavien Prat, 0-for-2 without blinkers and 0-for-2 in dirt sprints. Now he is reunited with jockey Mike Smith, who is riding for the first time since he was diagnosed with COVID. By Into Mischief, the stallion that sired Authentic, Petruchio is 1-for-1 with Smith and has improved with each start.

But do not expect me to bet against Baffert in this race. Spielberg fired a bullet 1:13.4 working handily Sunday morning at Santa Anita, a sign that Baffert is tightening the screws. I will take him to outlast Petruchio down the eternal 490-yard homestretch at Los Al with Red Flag making a late run for third.

The weather is forecast to be clear with a high of 72 and light wind for the Los Alamitos Futurity, which is posted for Saturday at 4:28 p.m. EST.

Racing notes and opinions

Some points about Lasix. Or now points. Only Cowan and Danny Pish-trained Gushing Oil (15-1) are eligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points from the Remington Springboard Mile. The other nine starters will all be racing on Lasix, something from which the 2021 classics are being weaned. That is why Churchill Downs made a rule saying that no horse may earn points racing on Lasix in Derby preps. That means if Cowan or Gushing Oil does not finish first in the Springboard, the 10 points that would normally go to the winner will instead go nowhere. This is not an issue for the Los Alamitos Futurity, since none of the six entrants will be on Lasix.

What was I saying last week about trainer Todd Pletcher’s slow start at Gulfstream Park? Did that ever change. After starting 2-for-12 with only three favorites, he then went 4-for-12. Largent’s victory in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes and 2-year-old Prime Factor’s in his debut were the highlights. Going into this week Pletcher was 3-for-6 with favorites, and his six wins were second only to Mike Maker in the training standings. It all seems so normal, and Pletcher had an explanation. “The opening of the Championship Meet now kind of emphasizes the Claiming Crown, and that’s not really our specialty,” he said on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “The main thing we’re focused on is trying to get some 2-year-olds heading in the right direction. We’ve probably got more horses in New York for the Aqueduct meet than we normally do. We had a pretty productive fall meet there. Now you’ll start to see more starters at Gulfstream.” Note to self: What is it they say about praying for patience?

Global futures have been posted for next month’s $3 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational. Belmont and Travers stakes winner Tiz The Law (9-4) is the favorite followed by Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go (7-2), Charlatan (5-1), Code Of Honor (5-1), defending winner Mucho Gusto (6-1), Tax (6-1), Maxfield (9-1), Jesús’ Team (12-1), Mystic Guide (12-1), True Timber (16-1), King Guillermo (20-1), Math Wizard (25-1) and Eye Of A Jedi (33-1). If Maxfield wins his comeback Saturday in the $75,000 Tenacious Stakes at the Fair Grounds, his odds will plunge. King Guillermo racing for the second time off a long break could be enticing despite his fourth-place finish in the Cigar Mile. Other than that the Pegasus is too much of a crap shoot right now, especially since posts 10-12 over nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park are like putting 20 more pounds on a horse’s back.

Say, Las Vegas racebooks. Don’t be afraid to book futures for the Pegasus. Or the Pegasus Turf. Or races not named the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes or Breeders’ Cup. Like we will be told often early next year it will not hurt a bit. And racing in Nevada could use a similar shot in the arm.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. Trainer Todd Pletcher talks about his heavily bet 2-year-old Prime Factor and other standouts in his stable. Remington Park’s Dale Day discusses the road to the Derby coming through Oklahoma. Chris Andrews of the South Point in Las Vegas handicaps weekend races including the Los Alamitos Derby. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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