Long before Excavate was ready to make his debut, trainer Charlie Whittingham said he was the horse who was going to take him to the Kentucky Derby next spring.
After watching the $1.1-million yearling perform Saturday at Hollywood Park, it is easy to see why.
Bet down to 7-10, the Mr. Prospector colt--a half-brother to Desert Wine--won the sixth race by five lengths without ever feeling Chris McCarron's whip. After breaking poorly, Excavate moved up powerfully while wide to join the leaders around the turn, then coasted home while covering the six furlongs in 1:10 2/5.
"He does everything right," said Whittingham, who owns Excavate in partnership with Dick Duchossois and Arthur Hancock.
"Even though he didn't break well, I didn't expect him to. I buzzed him out of the gate. You don't win many races out of the gate.
"Besides, he can get moving so quick. This is a good horse. He's big, he's strong, he strides from here to there and you've got his pedigree. He's got everything you need."
Excavate is already one step ahead of Sunday Silence and Ferdinand, Whittingham's two Kentucky Derby winners. Sunday Silence was beaten in his first start and Ferdinand didn't break his maiden until his fourth race.
There's a possibility Excavate could return in the $1-million Hollywood Futurity in two weeks. "It might be a little quick to run him back, but I wouldn't rule it out," Whittingham said.
McCarron, who also rides another promising 2-year-old, General Meeting, was impressed.
"That sent a chill up my spine," he said. "When I looked back at the eighth pole and he was rolling, I think Charlie could have rode that one.
"I was glad that we were lucky enough to draw outside because he broke a little slow. He always gave us the impression that he had quality, and I think he proved that today. At this stage, I think we can consider him a Derby prospect."
Two races after Excavate's debut, McCarron was right back in the winner's circle after Frost Free led wire-to-wire in the $110,300 Vernon O. Underwood.
A 9-1 shot, the 5-year-old It's Freezing gelding popped the gate, shook off Thirty Slews, then drew away to beat favored Timebank by almost two lengths in 1:08 1/5.
This was the third stakes victory and fourth victory in 11 starts this year for Frost Free. It will come as welcome news to owner Jim Vandervoort, the man behind Triple Dot Dash Stable.
"This was nice," trainer John Sadler said.
"Jim's been in intensive care for about six weeks in La Jolla after he had a heart attack. I spoke to his wife (Joyce) this morning, and I told her that hopefully I'd be able to call her with some good news.
"The thing that surprised me was that he was such a big price. He's a proven stakes-quality horse. Those other horses are very good horses and will win a lot of stakes, but Frost Free is already a multiple-stakes winner."
This was the first victory in three starts on the Hollywood Park main track for Frost Free, who is one of three crack sprinters Sadler trains. Olympic Prospect is prepping for a return during the first week of racing at Santa Anita, and Valiant Pete upset Sensational Star in the California Cup Sprint.
"We thought he had excuses in both of those losses," Sadler said of Frost Free. "He ran second and I thought he had a bad trip when he ran fourth."
Timebank, the 8-5 choice even though he has never won a stake, finished two lengths ahead of 10-1 shot Sam Who without any excuses.
"I moved to Frost Free at the end there, and it was unreal how hard my horse was going," jockey Kent Desormeaux said.
"I was in the catbird seat, only the cat was faster than the bird today."
One 2-year-old who will be in the Futurity is Best Pal, whose four-race winning streak ended in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"He's definitely going to run," trainer Ian Jory said. "Most of the best (2-year-olds) ran in the Prevue (Friday) and, while they've gotten better, he's still a better horse."
A winner of three stakes at Del Mar, including the Futurity, before winning the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, Best Pal finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup.
Pat Valenzuela has been the gelding's regular rider, but with his status pending, Best Pal might have a new pilot in the Futurity. The California Horse Racing Board will meet in executive session later this week to discuss Valenzuela.
"We've had plenty of calls, but I want to wait and see how Patrick's hearing comes out to know whether he's going to ride," Jory said.
Back in action 10 days after suffering a broken right elbow in a five-horse spill, Gary Stevens won with the last of his five mounts Saturday.
Eddie Delahoussaye spoiled Stevens' first race back when he rode Marsha's Dancer to victory over Somethingmerry, but America's leading money-winning rider came back to win the ninth on Breakfast Table.
"The first race I rode, I felt real comfortable all the way," said Stevens, who has the mount on Cuddles in today's $500,000 Hollywood Starlet.
"It didn't feel like I'd been away at all. I've ridden five races in a row, and I feel better than I did when I started."
Horse Racing Notes
Chris McCarron had three winners Saturday and holds a 23-20 lead over Alex Solis in the Hollywood Park standings. Julio Garcia also had a triple Saturday, sweeping the double with Aegean King and Slewrena and taking the seventh on 15-1 shot Copelan's Game.
Fly Till Dawn, who was scratched from last week's Citation Handicap to wait for the $500,000 Hollywood Turf Cup Dec. 16, worked six furlongs in 1:14 1/5 Saturday morning for trainer Darrell Vienna. . . . Cuddles is the 3-1 favorite on Russ Hudak's morning line. Next is Lite Light (4-1), Garden Gal and Theresa's Pleasure (9-2), Far Out Nurse (6-1), Miami Vacation (8-1), Dorky (12-1), Present Moment (15-1) and Scorpio Marjorie and On Final (30-1).