Saturday’s Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park is the final prep race for the best 2-year-old males training on the West Coast in advance of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4.
The FrontRunner is a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Juvenile and will be televised on NBC Sports Network during Saturday’s 5:30-8 p.m. ET telecast. It also is a key race to watch for fans eager for an early look at possible horses to follow on the Triple Crown trail next year. The last two Kentucky Derby winners, Nyquist and American Pharoah, both won the FrontRunner.
Horseplayers should approach this year’s edition of the FrontRunner with those recent results in mind, as buzz has built around another California-based horse as a leading divisional contender. Klimt (#6) enters the FrontRunner on a three-race winning streak for owner Kaleem Shah and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and has won those races by a combined margin of 12 ¼ lengths.
Klimt’s last two wins came in Del Mar’s two marquee stakes for 2-year-olds: the Grade 2 Best Pal and the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. He hasn’t won in a two-turn race yet but appears more than capable of handling the FrontRunner’s 1 1 /16 miles.
Klimt has shown the ability to sit close to the pace and stalk before taking command, and in the Del Mar Futurity he made a smooth, professional move to engage pacesetter Straight Fire (#5 in the FrontRunner) with little asking from jockey Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano has the ride again on Saturday.
Klimt’s pedigree should help him get the distance, too. He is by the young sire Quality Road, who won the Florida Derby and was a leading Kentucky Derby contender before being injured, and his dam’s (mother’s) family includes 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern.
In terms of accomplishment, Klimt towers over the other six contenders in the FrontRunner, but each of them has every right to improve as they continue to gain experience, and 2-year-olds often take giant steps from start to start. With this in mind, I will use Plum Dandy (#2) and Midnight Pleasure (#4) in a $2 exacta box with Klimt.
Plum Dandy broke his maiden handily in his second start in a one-mile, two-turn race at Del Mar, and his connections have tabbed Hall of Famer Mike Smith to ride.
Midnight Pleasure contested Straight Fire’s early lead in the Del Mar Futurity, fell back through the turn, but then rallied and kept on well to finish third. His jockey, Martin Garcia, is a very good judge of pace in route races, as is Mike Smith. Midnight Pleasure merits consideration at odds of 10-1 or higher.
I will also key Klimt in an exacta over those two other contenders for $4, which would make for a $6 total exacta if he wins and either Plum Dandy or Midnight Pleasure finishes second.
Strategy on a $20 Budget
$2 exacta box 2,5,6 ($12)
$4 exacta: 6 with 2,5 ($8)