By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) may offer more prestige and a higher purse, but one can make a case that the $350,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) has a more impressive and significant list of winners. Held at Hollywood Park before being moved to Los Alamitos last year, the Futurity’s recent winners include Dortmund, Shared Belief, Lookin at Lucky, and Pioneerof the Nile, while going further back in history reveals names like Lion Heart, Point Given, Real Quiet, A.P. Indy, Best Pal, King Glorious, Snow Chief, and Stephan’s Odyssey.
While this year’s renewal of the Los Alamitos Futurity lacks a standout runner, the race has nevertheless drawn a quality field of seven up-and-coming horses with Kentucky Derby aspirations. On paper, the two best horses in the race are the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Mor Spirit and Toews On Ice, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them finish 1-2. Mor Spirit finished second in his debut sprinting at Santa Anita on September 27th, then came back and romped in a one-mile maiden race on October 23rd with Gary Stevens in the saddle. That set him up for a cross-country trip to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), where he tackled a sloppy track for the first time and ran a huge race in defeat, tracking the pace under jockey Martin Garcia before taking the lead and battling through the homestretch to finish second behind Airoforce. Since then, he’s posted a pair of solid workouts at Santa Anita, including a quick :47 4/5 breeze on December 15th, and will be reunited with Gary Stevens this Saturday. From all appearances, Mor Spirit is ready for another big race, and if you’re worried about the cross-country trip to Churchill tiring him out, just remember that Bob Baffert prepped Dortmund as Churchill before his successful run in the Los Alamitos Futurity last year.
As for Toews On Ice, he disappointed in his first two starts by finishing third, but broke his maiden by 7 ½ lengths in the Barretts Juvenile Stakes and hasn’t lost since then, scoring impressive wins in the Speakeasy Stakes and Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III). The biggest question mark is whether he can handle the distance of the Los Alamitos Futurity, since he’s never run farther than seven furlongs. The fact that he ran the final three furlongs of the Bob Hope in a strong :36.42 suggests that he might be able to stretch out, but his pedigree—his dam is the D’wildcat mare Wild Forest Cat, who was strictly a sprinter—offers more pause for concern. Toews On Ice might surprise me and see out the distance of the Los Alamitos Futurity just fine, but my gut feeling is that he will run out of steam in the final furlong of the long homestretch.
If you’re looking for a longshot, Urlacher might be a great choice. He ran well against Mor Spirit in the latter’s two maiden races, then ran in a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar on November 15th and prevailed by a neck after dueling for the lead, only to be disqualified to second for drifting out in the homestretch. As a result, he’s technically a maiden and might be a bit overlooked for that reason, but his good efforts against Mor Spirit suggest that he has a lot more talent than he’s generally given credit for, and I think he has a great chance to round out the exacta behind Mor Spirit on Saturday.
Another logical contender, albeit at a likely shorter price, is Hollywood Don. Trained by Peter Miller, Hollywood Don has spent the majority of his career racing on turf, but he did finish a distant third in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) behind future Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 1-2 finishers Nyquist and Swipe. Still, that race was a slow one on paper, and Hollywood Don lost ground through slow closing fractions and wound up receiving a Beyer speed figure of just 68, so he’ll likely need to take a step forward in his second start on dirt to contend against this field. If you want to play the turf-to-dirt angle, Frank Conversation is an intriguing alternative. He was soundly beaten in his lone start on dirt, but that was in his debut sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Del Mar, and his subsequent success on turf may be more the result of general improvement than a dramatic preference for turf over dirt. Following his debut, he won a maiden special weight on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course before stretching out to a mile and finishing a solid third in the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (gr. III) after being involved in a solid early pace. His pedigree might be slanted toward success on turf, but Frank Conversation’s tactical speed, ability to rate, and overall talent has me thinking that he can be successful on dirt and will run well in the Los Alamitos Futurity—at least well enough to finish in the superfecta.
So to recap, I’ll take Mor Spirit as my choice to win, with Urlacher to round out the exacta over Toews On Ice and Frank Conversation.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Los Alamitos Futurity?
On Friday, there are a couple a very interesting allowance races that could potentially have a big impact on the Kentucky Derby trail. The first, with a post time of 4:35 pm EST, is a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park that features Todd Pletcher’s exciting debut winner Destin, who unleashed a big late run to win a seven-furlong maiden race at Belmont Park on October 11th. A son of Giant’s Causeway out of the Siberian Summer mare Dream of Summer, Destin looks like a colt that will have no trouble stretching out, and I think we’re going to see him turn in a big effort tomorrow.
The second race of note, with a post time of 7:45 pm EST, is a one-mile and seventy-yard allowance optional claiming race at Fair Grounds. The favorite is Tom’s Ready, who finished second in the Street Sense Stakes before running eighth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), but he could receive a stiff challenge from Dolphus, a half-brother to 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra that won his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds last month. It ought to be a great race!
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.