By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
A little more than a week ago, I wrote a blog post sharing early thoughts on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and mentioned that the promising allowance winner Dortmund—unbeaten in two starts for trainer Bob Baffert—is my top-ranked Derby horse with five months remaining before the Run for the Roses. On Saturday, we’ll get a chance to see just how good Dortmund might be when he makes his stakes debut in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I).
The race, previously known as the CashCall Futurity, is being run for the first time at Los Alamitos following the closing of Hollywood Park last year. For this first renewal at Los Alamitos, the 8.5-furlong race has drawn just five runners, a small field by recent standards (the last four editions of this race have averaged 11.5 starters), but that may be due in part to the presence of Dortmund. He has been visually and numerically impressive in his two victories, breaking his maiden sprinting 6.5 furlongs at Santa Anita by nearly five lengths, then coming back to score by almost eight lengths in a one-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs. On both occasions, he overcame wide trips to win convincingly, and having drawn post three in a five-horse field for the Los Alamitos Futurity, he should be able to save more ground today. The main question is whether he can handle two turns, but being by Big Brown out of a Tale of the Cat mare, I think he’ll handle the extra turn just fine.
His main challenger appears to be Mr. Z, who has fired off a trio of solid stakes efforts in his last three starts. He began with a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, then finished a good fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and missed by just a nose when second in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) three weeks later. He has proven himself thoroughly going 8.5 furlongs, which could give him an edge over Dortmund, but he also hasn’t been running as fast in terms of Beyer speed figures, and the small field could put him at a tactical disadvantage against the speedier Dortmund.
The other three entrants would have to step up substantially to contend against the two favorites. The most accomplished is No Problem, who rallied from just off a fast pace to win the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Del Mar at 17-1. However, he was aided by the fact that the race fell apart late (the final three furlongs were run in :38.81), and being by the sprinter Munnings out of a mare by Eclipse champion sprinter Orientate, No Problem may have a bit of trouble stretching out to 8.5 furlongs.
Bench Warrant won his debut sprinting five furlongs during the summer meet at Del Mar, then returned from a break to finish third in a six-furlong allowance race at that same track on November 30th. He certainly has some talent, but this will be his first start beyond six furlongs, and his first on dirt as well. His pedigree suggests that he might handle the stretch-out—his sire is Street Boss, whose top progeny include Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Danza and Capo Bastone, who was twice grade I-placed at 8.5 furlongs—but while Bench Warrant appears to be a candidate to round out the trifecta, defeating Dortmund and/or Mr. Z. could prove challenging.
Rounding out the field is Firing Line, who was beaten a half-length in his debut going six furlongs at Santa Anita before scoring a decisive 4 ¼-length victory over 6 ½ furlongs at Del Mar. In that race, he rallied from sixth place to take the lead in the stretch and post a six-furlong fraction of 1:09.80, then still had enough left in the tank to clock the final sixteenth in a sharp :06.26. Having drawn the far outside post position, he should be able to settle wherever is logical given the early pace, and his pedigree strongly suggests that he will appreciate the extra distance of the Los Alamitos Futurity.
So to tie it all together, I believe that Dortmund will continue his progression with another convincing win on Saturday, with Mr. Z and Firing Line rounding out the trifecta. If I had to try and call it cold, I would say Dortmund/Mr. Z/Firing Line in that order, but Firing Line is definitely worth considering for the second spot in the trifecta, especially if he gets overlooked in the wagering.
Who do you like in the Los Alamitos Futurity?