Kent Desormeaux sat at his locker, studying the Daily Racing Form for Sunday’s ninth race, but his mind was still on the $1-million Hollywood Futurity, which had been run minutes before.
“A nice pickup mount, wasn’t it?” a perturbed Desormeaux said. “You just sit there and you get a horse like that.”
Desormeaux had ridden Best Pal most recently, for a five-furlong workout on Wednesday, but in a version of rider roulette, Jose Santos was in the saddle Sunday when the 2-year-old gelding, atoning for a dull performance in the Breeders’ Cup, came from last place to win the Futurity by a length before 21,498.
John and Betty Mabee, who bred and own Best Pal, also took second place with General Meeting, who was a head better than fast-closing Reign Road in the nine-horse field. Olympio, who lost his chance when a hole closed at the top of the stretch, finished fourth, five lengths behind Reign Road.
Pat Valenzuela, who had ridden Best Pal in all but one of his other seven races, was trainer Ian Jory’s choice for the Futurity, but Valenzuela, who was suspended indefinitely a month ago by the stewards pending medical and psychological evaluations, was unable to regain his eligible standing despite some mid-week legal actions.
Jory said that whoever worked Best Pal on Wednesday would ride him in the Futurity if Valenzuela couldn’t make it; but Desormeaux had the ride on Deputy Meister, another Futurity starter, whom he had ridden to a second-place finish in an allowance race Nov. 15.
“I didn’t know whether Pat was going to be able to ride Best Pal or not,” Desormeaux said. “There was talk he might get a court order and still make it. So if I give up the mount on Deputy Meister and Pat shows up to ride Best Pal, then I wind up with no one to ride.”
Deputy Meister, who went off at 33-1, finished fifth, and the New York-based Santos revived his sluggish invasion of California with only his seventh victory in 105 Southland mounts.
Santos and 2-year-olds go together, at least this year. In last month’s Breeders’ Cup, he won both juvenile races, with Fly So Free and Meadow Star. Best Pal gave the 29-year-old Chilean his fifth victory in a million-dollar race this year, tying the record that Chris McCarron set in 1990.
First place Sunday was worth $495,000, boosting Best Pal’s total past $1 million, but Fly So Free is still favored to win the Eclipse Award as divisional champion.
Best Pal, a son of Habitony and Ubetshedid, finishes the year with six victories, one second and that sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup. In the 10 years that all three races have been run, Best Pal becomes only the second horse, after Roving Boy in 1982, to sweep the Del Mar Futurity, the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita and the Hollywood Futurity.
He did it Sunday with a sweeping move from the far outside. Formal Dinner, General Meeting and Barrage were spread out across the track, battling for the lead, when Best Pal surged.
Barrage, on the fence, came out and then went back in, closing the hole for Olympio and Eddie Delahoussaye, and finished sixth. Formal Dinner ran out of steam and finished eighth, beating only stablemate Cien Fuegos.
General Meeting couldn’t hold off his entrymate inside the eighth pole and in another jump would have lost second to Reign Road. Best Pal, coupled in the betting with General Meeting, paid $4.20 as the favorite, running the mile in 1:35 2/5. The Mabees, having not nominated Best Pal, supplemented him into the Futurity for $50,000 and then had a $675,000 day, counting General Meeting’s $180,000 for running second.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to ride this horse,” Santos said. “After having trouble finding some good horses to ride, I finally found a nice one.
“The race set up perfect, I was supposed to be right behind two or three horses. I pushed a little to the inside at the five-eighths pole, and he wasn’t very happy. I moved to the outside, and I knew I was on the best horse with the class in the race. Even though he got tired at the end, he won the race real nice.”
“My horse ran great,” said McCarron, who rode General Meeting. “He’s a very smart colt with lots of ability. I think you’re going to hear more things from him. He’s the genuine article.”
Added distance should benefit Reign Road, who had started only twice before. “He’s a little lazy,” jockey Julio Garcia said. “With two (front-running) horses, we were a little too far back to catch them. If we could have been closer early, we would have had a better chance.”
Because the footing along the rail at Hollywood Park has been deep, Delahoussaye wanted to stay outside with Olympio, but traffic forced them back in.
Then, near the three-sixteenths pole, Delahoussaye tried to rally Olympio past Barrage, under David Flores.
“Three-quarters of the way in, the hole closed,” Delahoussaye said.
There was an echo in the Hollywood Park jockeys’ room Sunday. Both Delahoussaye and Kent Desormeaux, for far different reasons, were talking about the $1-million race that got way.
Horse Racing Notes
The Hollywood Futurity was the 11th victory for Jose Santos in a race worth $1 million or more. He started the day tied with Laffit Pincay Jr. at the top of that list. Santos still trails Gary Stevens by $546,928 in the battle for the national money title. . . . Pincay, scheduled to make his return Sunday after suffering a broken collarbone, took off the only mount he had. He is named on another horse Wednesday.