Following 2-year-olds is a habit that dies hard. I thought I had made up my mind to stop becoming so invested in them, as in recent years, juveniles have fallen by the wayside before they can step two hoofs on the trail to the Kentucky Derby. But then the stakes races start popping up like dandelions, and you start thumbing through past winners and see the glory they went on to accomplish, and before you know it, you’re knee-deep in past performances and wondering if one of these babies might end up becoming The One. It’s sort of like a disease.
Take the Grade I CashCall Futurity, which runs this Saturday at Hollywood Park: past winners of this race include two of my favorite race horses of all-time, Real Quiet and Lookin at Lucky. That fact alone sealed the deal that I’d better keep paying attention and pull up those race replays. Oh, Bob Baffert, you never fail to keep things interesting; he stands as the record-holding trainer with the most wins in this race already, and he’s got three entrants in this year’s edition: Drill, Liaison, and Sky Kingdom. And then he goes and tells the Daily Racing Form “I’ve never won it with a bum.” He could be racing’s P.R. manager.
Of the trio Baffert will be sending into this year’s CashCall, Drill is the most accomplished, but has been disappointing in his latest starts. Drill finished off the board in his last two races, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Delta Jackpot Stakes, where he went off as the favorite. Before that, he won the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and followed that with a runner-up in the Grade I Norfolk at Santa Anita. He can run on the dirt, but maybe he doesn’t really prefer it. Drill has never won at Hollywood Park, but maybe he’ll like it better than the last two tracks he’s run at. Or maybe he’s already fizzling out as a race horse. That’s why I like Liaison best of the Baffert bunch.
Liaison has two wins in three starts, with a victory in the Real Quiet Stakes to his record. (Foreshadowing, anyone? Wait for it…) He’s by the Baffert-trained Indian Charlie, a brilliant horse who tragically passed away this week after losing a battle with cancer. His damsire is Victory Gallop, who dashed Real Quiet’s Triple Crown dreams by a nose in the Belmont Stakes. Oh, and it helps Liaison has two wins at Hollywood Park already. I couldn’t help but get a little chill at that move the bay colt made at the wire when track announcer Vic Stauffer called, “Boy, Liaison sensed Rousing Sermon and just turned him away and beat him by a neck!” This is a colt who already knows how to be a race horse.
The third Baffert entry is Sky Kingdom, who broke his maiden at Hollywood last time out after two previous tries and off-the-board finishes. His losses came at Del Mar, which I would throw out as a distaste for the track. He is by Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes, and that’s a reason in itself to give him a look.
Of the thirteen entrants in this field, several appear to have a chance of taking this race. Contrary to popular belief, Bob Baffert’s spell over California is penetrable, so it’s worth checking out Majestic City. Last time out, Majestic City took a spin over the wet turf at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and hated it. Jockey Garrett Gomez sensed him struggling over the ground and eased him after setting the early pace, so don’t hold this blemish against him. Before that, Majestic City ran second in both the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and the Del Mar Futurity (he was disqualified to third in the latter race for interference). Before that, he won three races in a row at Hollywood Park, including the Grade III Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes and an overnight stakes race. The flashy chestnut will have blinkers off for the first time in the CashCall.
Basmati has a longer resume than any in this race, with only a maiden victory in seven starts. However, last time out, he finished second in the Grade III Delta Jackpot Stakes over a decent field, including Drill. He may be putting things together late as a race horse with room to improve. Rousing Sermon, Handsome Mike, Brother Francis, Groovin’ Solo, Empire Way, Blingo, Cozzetti, and Desormais round out the field.
Whether or not you’ve given in to the call of the babies, the CashCall is a stakes worth paying attention to. With so much talent coming out of this race in the past, it has held up its worthiness as a grade I juvenile test. Let’s hope this year’s edition is no different and produces a another future champion.
The Grade I CashCall Futurity will be broadcast live from Hollywood Park on TVG. Post time is scheduled for approximately 7:37pm ET.