There is little doubt that trainer Bob Baffert owns the Los Alamitos Futurity, even when it was run across town as the Hollywood Futurity. He has won it 10 times, including all four times it has been at Los Alamitos.
And, given his success with 2-year-olds this year, it’s no surprise he has the first and second favorites in Saturday’s running of the Grade 1 $300,000 race.
But, he’s not happy about things and the future of the race as the national committee that determines a race’s prestige status is downgrading it to Grade 2 next year. The implications are that the winner won’t get the coveted Grade 1 victory so essential for breeding and there will be a smaller purse making it less attractive to horsemen.
“It was really disappointing when they did that,” Baffert said. “That’s what happened when Brad McKinzie died. It lost its protector. That’s what it came down to.”
McKinzie was the longtime Los Alamitos executive, and close friend of Baffert’s, who died last year. He was instrumental in converting the track to allow thoroughbred racing after Hollywood Park closed.
McKinzie, the horse named after the executive, won last year’s Futurity after a disqualification and was on the Kentucky Derby trail until he was injured. He came back to win the Pennsylvania Derby and will run as a 4-year-old.
The recent winners of the race include Mastery, a presumptive Derby favorite until an injury; Mor Spirit, a multiple graded stakes winner; Dortmund, winner of almost $2 million; and the Eclipse Award-winning Shared Belief. If you go back to the Hollywood Park days, you have seven Kentucky Derby winners.
It seems one of the strikes against the race are the small fields. Only six are entered Saturday.
“It’s always been a short-field race,” Baffert said. “One problem with the business is the analytics are taking over. It can still be a great race with five horses. In California, unfortunately, we’re on an island and it’s hard to get people to come out here and run. And gone are the days when owners would run horses just to run them.”
Baffert sees California at a real disadvantage.
“The only track that has big fields is Churchill Downs,” Baffert said. “And the owners would rather just run in Kentucky because that’s where the horses are from. It’s easier just to stay home. Or, they would rather run at Gulfstream, because they’ve got [a strong breeding area in] Ocala nearby. California is not putting out the numbers. We’ve got good horses, good trainers, good jockeys and it’s very competitive. But we don’t have the gamblers’ money behind us because our tracks don’t have the [slot] machines.”
Saturday’s two Grade 1s, to include the Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, will likely be run in front of only a couple of thousand people, which doesn’t help.
Baffert has had tremendous success with his 2-year-olds this year. Going into this meeting, 19 of his 29 maidens making their debut have won.
The morning-line favorite, at 6-5, is Improbable, winner of both his races, including a 7¼-length win in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs.
“Everybody is going to be watching Improbable because he’s the favorite, and he should be,” Baffert said. “Improbable has always drawn poorly but [jockey] Drayden [Van Dyke] has ridden him with confidence. Down the backside in his last race, I wasn’t liking his chances, but then he got it done.”
Baffert’s other colt is Mucho Gusto, at 3-1, who is also undefeated in two starts. He won the five-horse Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar after breaking his maiden at Los Alamitos.
One of things that makes this 1 1/16-mile race so interesting is it’s the first time around two turns, an indication if the colt will have the distance to go for the Derby.
“I think you find out if they like two turns even if you think you already know,” Baffert said. “But with every horse there is usually this kernel of doubt for a few seconds where you wonder if they will hit the imaginary wall or keep going. … But you find the real distance limitations at 1 1/8 [miles].”
Baffert also has the top two fillies in the six-horse Starlet Stakes.
Chasing Yesterday is the favorite at 9-5 followed by Mother Mother at 2-1. Chasing Yesterday has won three of four including the three-horse Desi Arnaz Stakes. Mother Mother has won two of three, with a second to Bellafina in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante.