Baffert Holds Strong Hand in Futurity and Starlet Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

We may be entering the final weeks of 2016, but there's still some top-notch racing left to be run! This Saturday, Los Alamitos will hold a pair of Grade 1 races for two-year-olds, including the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), an official prep race on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Both the Futurity and the $300,000 Starlet Stakes (gr. I) have drawn intriguing fields full of up-and-coming young runners, and it would be no surprise to see a few of these horses achieve major success down the road. Let's take a look at the entries!

Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I)

Even before Bob Baffert's Mastery made his debut, there was excitement about his talent and potential. Videos on the XBTV website showed him out-working a couple of his talented stablemates, including the Grade 1 winner Klimt. With a solid pedigree (by Candy Ride out of an Old Trieste mare), Mastery looked like a Kentucky Derby contender before he'd ever run in a race, and he delivered on those big expectations by winning a six-furlong maiden special weight on October 22nd by 4 ¼ lengths, stopping the clock in a sharp 1:09.56.

It was an impressive performance, but Mastery was arguably even better in the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) on November 19th. While he got a great setup leading the way through fractions of :23.23 and :47.07, he showed a strong turn-of-foot in the homestretch, running the final furlong in :11.61 under a fairly light ride to defeat the four-time stakes winner California Diamond by 1 ¼ lengths.

Overall, Baffert has won this race eight times, including the last two years with Dortmund and Mor Spirit. Facing just four rivals, Mastery will surely be favored at odds-on, and over the last five years, Baffert has compiled an incredible 10-for-13 record with odds-on favorites in graded stakes races for two-year-olds. Furthermore, Mastery's two Beyer speed figures so far have been 93 and 87; the highest figure earned by any of his four rivals is a 75. Taking all of this together, it's difficult to envision Mastery losing this race, and a decisive win could thoroughly stamp him as California's leading contender for the Kentucky Derby.

Mastery's stablemate Show Me Da Lute also warrants respect, although it's noteworthy that he made his debut going 8.5 furlongs. Baffert doesn't often debut his young runners in a route race, and historically, those that have debuted in a route have not gone on to big success down the road. Add in the fact that Show Me Da Lute got a great setup in his maiden win, leading the way through very slow fractions of :48.50 and 1:13.14, and I think Show Me Da Lute could be vulnerable on Saturday.

A better alternative for the runner-up spot might be Bobby Abu Dhabi, who won a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight on November 19th at Del Mar. The margin of victory was only a head, but he ran well to out-sprint the other pacesetters and still hold off a late charge from Adorned. He has a promising pedigree for stretching out in distance (by Macho Uno out of a Saint Ballado mare), and from post two, he might be able to secure the lead and take this field a long way on the front end.

Starlet Stakes (gr. I)

Could Bob Baffert sweep Los Alamitos' two Grade 1 races for two-year-olds? If Mastery does his part, than Baffert should have a big chance at completing the double with either American Gal or Fact of Life, his two representatives in the Starlet Stakes.

American Gal looms as the horse to beat after compiling an excellent record in her first three starts. She began her career with an easy 2 ¼-length win in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar (in which she beat Fact of Life and next-out maiden winner Partyinthepaddock), and after missing some training time, American Gal came back to score a big win in the six-furlong Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita, triumphing by 6 ½ lengths after tracking a fast pace.

Off of that big win, American Gal contested the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) less than two weeks later and ran a tremendous race in defeat. After breaking slowly from post position twelve, the usually speedy American Gal found herself racing well off the lead and was forced to go seven wide around the first turn, a scenario that would spell disaster for most horses. Instead, American Gal recovered and made an eye-catching move during the middle of the race, moving up to within 1 ½ lengths of the lead as the field approached the homestretch. Since the leaders had carved out slow fractions of :48.19 and 1:13.01, American Gal had little chance to catch the pace-tracking winner Champagne Room, and she had every excuse to flatten out after her big mid-race move. But while she lost some ground in the homestretch, she fought on with determination to finish third, beaten just four lengths.

The fact that American Gal didn't throw in the towel when faced with adversity says a lot about her ability, and if she can get off to a better start in the Starlet Stakes, she should return to her front-running/pace-pressing style and deliver another big run. If she stays at her morning line odds of 5-2, I think she would be a significant overlay, as I believe American Gal will be difficult to beat.

For the runner-up spot, I would consider Abel Tasman, who has won two straight races for trainer Simon Callaghan. She broke her maiden going a mile at Santa Anita on September 30th, then cut back in distance to seven furlongs and defeated Fact of Life in an allowance race at Del Mar. Abel Tasman has a solid late run, and with a win going two turns under her belt, she should be closing ground in a race that appears to have a fair amount of speed.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Los Alamitos Futurity and Starlet Stakes?

A Pair of 2yos to Watch

If you're like me and have already started looking for up-and-coming Kentucky Derby contenders, I've got two more names for you to keep an eye on!

The first is American Anthem, a son of Bodemeister trained by Bob Baffert (click here to view his pedigree.) After turning in an eye-catching series of workouts at Santa Anita, American Anthem made his debut on December 3rd in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar, and while he was outsprinted early on by Little Juanito (who carved out fractions of :21.96 and :44.99), American Anthem closed ground relentlessly in the homestretch, gaining 3 ½ lengths in the final furlong to win by a neck. (VIDEO)

It should be noted that American Anthem got a very good setup running down a tiring leader, but his final time was fast (1:10.37, which translated to an 86 Beyer), and he certainly wasn't running out of steam in the homestretch. American Anthem appears to have a bright future, and I'm looking forward to seeing where he runs next!

The other colt that I would like to mention is Cavil, who broke his maiden in impressive fashion on December 2nd at Aqueduct. Owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Cavil was facing nine rivals in a one-mile maiden special weight but was never challenged, sprinting to the lead through fractions of :23.10 and :46.13 before extending his advantage in the second half of the race to win by 5 ½ lengths in the quick time of 1:36.67, which earned a Beyer of 88. (VIDEO)

Only time will tell if Cavil can become another Frosted, but his pedigree has "Kentucky Derby" written all over it (click here to view his pedigree), and it would come as no surprise if Cavil wins a graded stakes race during the coming months to launch himself firmly on to the Derby trail. Stay tuned!


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

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