Winner of the I'm Smokin and Balboa Stakes at the Del Mar meeting, the 2-year-old gelded son of Habitony will take his first crack at two turns in today's $346,450 Del Mar Futurity.
Successful in three of his four starts and second in his only defeat, Best Pal will be heavily favored to win the closing-day feature at a mile over the main track.
Owned by John Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm and ridden in all three of his victories by Valenzuela, Best Pal will be coupled with Magnificent Red, a Secretariat colt who won his sprint debut Aug. 25. The entry is the early 6-5 favorite.
Trained by Ian Jory, who took Video Ranger to this year's Derby, Best Pal has been impressive in both of his local victories. He won the I'm Smokin by seven lengths against an extremely weak field, then came back to take the seven-furlong Balboa by two. X-Ray, who finished second, returned to win the 2-year-old event on Maryland Million Day last weekend.
Magnificent Red, trained by Gary Jones, provided Chris McCarron with his first victory after the rider returned from injuries sustained in a spill at Hollywood Park last June. The colt showed courage in his debut, squeezing through a narrow opening along the rail in the stretch to win by two lengths.
Best Pal is the reason the entry will be the public choice, but his presence didn't scare anyone away. A full field of 12 was entered Sunday morning.
Trainer Wayne Lukas, who has won the Futurity three times (twice with fillies), will have two representatives:
--Formal Dinner will make his fifth start at his fourth track. He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs after finishing second in his debut, was beaten by 15 lengths at Monmouth Park, then went to Saratoga and won the Sanford by four lengths. Gary Stevens will ride the son of Well Decorated.
--Running Total, who won a maiden race here on Aug. 11, will be ridden by Julio Garcia and drew the rail.
Arctic Deputy, Pillaring and Regional are the only three Futurity participants who have won at the distance, but a victory by any of the three would be considered a major surprise.
The rest of the field includes Got to Fly, who will be wearing blinkers for the first time after finishing second as the 3-2 favorite in the Graduation Stakes; Sunshine Machine, who will be ridden by Jose Santos in the jockey's first Del Mar appearance; Bucking Bird, a maiden who should like the extra furlongs; Terrific Trip, another non-winner, and Southern Justice, who is unbeaten in two starts but drew post position No. 12, hardly the place a front-runner wants to be going a mile at Del Mar.
Horse Racing Notes
Best Pal and Formal Dinner each will carry 120 pounds, Southern Justice 116 and the rest of the Futurity starters will carry 114. The rest of the early line: Running Total and Formal Dinner, 4-1; Sunshine Machine 5-1; Southern Justice and Bucking Bird, 8-1; Got to Fly, 12-1; Arctic Deputy and Pillaring, 20-1; and Regional and Terrific Trip, 30-1. . . . Trainer Wayne Lukas' other Futurity victories came with fillies Lost Kitty in 1987, Althea in '83 and Saratoga Six in '84. Drag Race, a 13-1 shot, won last year's Futurity, beating Rue de Palm and Single Dawn.