So a little track in southern California flips the switch on a eight-day autumn meet and gets a Kentucky Derby prep, and a storied track in the Midwest grinds out 52 racing dates and does not get a whiff.
This is not really about wringing hands over whether Los Al deserves this annual reward and Hawthorne this annual snubbing. Saturday’s $300,000 Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity is a holdover from the old days of Hollywood Park, and even though it will be a Grade 2 at this time next year, it is not going away. Neither is Bob Baffert’s domination of the race.
With two undefeated horses in the field of six 2-year-old colts, Baffert is out to maintain a perfect record in this year’s renewal of the race Saturday at 5:28 p.m. EST. He has trained every winner of this points prep since it was moved from Inglewood to Cypress four years ago. Overall he has won the race 10 times dating to Real Quiet in 1997. Another victory would just continue the drumbeat for Baffert, who is 29-for-52 with his 2-year-olds in 2018.
Improbable (6-5 on the morning line) is favored after making such a big impression with his 7¼-length win in the $100,000 Street Sense Stakes last month during Breeders’ Cup weekend at Churchill Downs. The 2-for-2 City Zip colt will start from the rail with Drayden Van Dyke guiding him around two turns for the first time.
Also 2-for-2 without a route race yet, the other Baffert – Mucho Gusto (3-1) – will try to lead the whole 1 1/16 miles from the outside post Saturday. He overcame traffic at the start to win last month by 1½ lengths in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar. Ridden again by Joe Talamo, the Mucho Macho Man colt has yet to trail at any call in his young career. If the dirt at Los Al plays the way it did in September, when early speed won 52 percent of the time, this race could be made for Mucho Gusto.
But he will not be alone on the lead. Breaking from post 2, Savagery (8-1) races for the sixth time for Peter Miller. This will be his first time without blinkers. Since an 11-length maiden win in August at Del Mar, this Bellamy Road colt has finished second twice, including his loss to Mucho Gusto in the Bob Hope.
After a next-to-last-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the closer King Of Speed (15-1) returns to dirt. The Jimmy Creed colt had five races on turf, including two victories carrying the now-retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Trainer Jeff Bonde has won 22 percent of his races this year taking a horse from turf to dirt. Kent Desormeaux gets the ride Saturday.
Two maiden winners – Dueling (6-1) for Jerry Hollendorfer with jockey Mike Smith and Extra Hope (7-2) for Richard Mandella with Flavien Prat – complete the field. Each horse is carrying 120 pounds.
One can only hope that this year’s running of the Los Al Futurity will not trigger the unwanted drama that started with last year’s running. That was when two Baffert colts – Solomini and McKinzie – finished a bumpy one-two but were placed three-one after a controversial stewards ruling. Three months later McKinzie was DQ’d from his wet win in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita after two brushes with Bolt d’Oro.
Coincidence or otherwise, Solomoni, McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro were never the same after that, so here is hoping all the bad karma of 2017-18 is out of the way, especially for bettors looking for clean outcomes that do not lead to bad beats.
Racing notes and opinions
Chasing Yesterday (9-5), another Baffert 2-year-old, is favored to win for the third time in a row Saturday when she breaks from the outside post in the $300,000 Grade 1 Starlet Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Oaks prep for 2-year-olds Saturday at 6:28 p.m. EST at Los Alamitos. Mother Mother (2-1), another Baffert filly that is 2-for-3 with a runner-up finish in the Del Mar Debutante, is likely to set the pace for the field of six. Oxy Lady (5-1) ships in from the east for trainer Jack Sisterson off a five-length win in the Grade 3 Tempted last month at Aqueduct. Maiden winners Vibrance (5-2) was a distant third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She, Enaya Alrabb (12-1) and Sold It (20-1) – the latter two for trainer Doug O’Neill – round out the field.
My two dollars’ worth: There is no money to be made vertically betting Baffert. So I will play the speed angle in the Los Al Futurity and play Savagery with a win-place wager. I will also make a win-place bet on Oxy Lady in the Starlet, hoping she rolls past the early speed of Mother Mother and Sold it.
With thanks to TVG and the Twitter account of Equibets, I have corrected the stats on Baffert’s 2-year-olds this year. Including the debut of All Good on Thursday at Los Alamitos, they are 30–19-1-2 their first time out for him and 52–29-4-5 overall in 2018.
Waldgeist (4-1) in the Vase, Hot King Prawn (9-4) in the Sprint, Beauty Generation (4-5) in the Mile and Sungrazer (9-4) are the favorites in European futures betting for the Hong Kong International Races, four Group 1s that will be run at Sha Tin starting Sunday at 1 a.m. EST. It is a crap shoot to determine whether the races will be available via advance-deposit wagering around the country or even at race books around Nevada. You may check with each individually, but my experience has been that the answer may not match the reality. Be that as it may, TVG’s Candice Hare handicaps and previews the card from Hong Kong on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition includes Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella discussing Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity and TVG international racing specialist Candice Hare with preview from Asia of the Hong Kong International Races. Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse with a name starting with “E.” The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.