It’s safe to say no trainer has enjoyed more success in the $200,000, Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity than Bob Baffert. Indeed, it’s rare to see any trainer dominate a single graded stakes to such an extraordinary extent.
Since 1997, Baffert has won the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race on 12 occasions, most notably with future classic winners Real Quiet, Point Given, and Lookin At Lucky. But Baffert’s control of the Los Alamitos Futurity has risen to a different level since the race transitioned from Hollywood Park to Los Alamitos in 2014. All six renewals at Los Alamitos have been won by Baffert trainees, including future Grade 1 winners Dortmund, Mor Spirit, McKinzie, and Improbable.
Can Baffert keep his streak alive in the 2020 Los Alamitos Futurity? That’s the key question handicappers must consider when analyzing the entries. Baffert will be represented by #6 Spielberg, who definitely warrants respect. Sold for $1 million as a yearling, the son of Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags showed plenty of potential in his first four starts, most notably finishing second in the Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity and third in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes.
But Spielberg enters the Los Alamitos Futurity off a disappointing performance. In the Nov. 15 Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes sprinting seven-eighths of a mile at Del Mar, Spielberg was an overwhelming 3-5 favorite to defeat five rivals, but after engaging in a four-way battle for the early lead, he weakened to finish fourth by 9 ½ lengths in a strung-out field.
Perhaps Spielberg can turn things around while stretching back out in distance for the Los Alamitos Futurity. But there’s plenty of speed in Saturday’s field, and I’m not convinced Spielberg is a standout off his recent form. It’s possible he peaked during the summer and fall, opening the door for a late-maturing rival to steal the show at Los Alamitos. Keep in mind, five of Baffert’s six recent Los Alamitos Futurity winners entered the race undefeated, which stands in contrast to Spielberg’s 1-for-5 résumé.
The obvious alternative to Spielberg is #1 Red Flag. An exciting son of Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Tamarkuz, Red Flag has shown impressive versatility during his brief career. After overcoming a slow start to rally and break his maiden sprinting on turf, Red Flag switched to dirt for the Bob Hope, where he roared clear from a pace-pressing position to dominate by 7 ¼ lengths.
Trained by John Shirreffs, who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, Red Flag is steadily progressing in the right direction and could take another step forward while stretching out in distance on Saturday. The fact he’s won with multiple running styles gives him options for working out an ideal trip regardless of how the Los Alamitos Futurity unfolds.
But arguably the most intriguing runner in the field is #2 Petruchio, a son of two-time leading sire Into Mischief conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. Petruchio showed flashes of early potential on dirt at Del Mar, finishing third in a pair of maiden sprints while facing quality competition.
But Petruchio took a big step forward during the fall, benefiting from a combination of switching to turf, adding blinkers, stretching out in distance, and racing as a gelding. After finishing second by a neck in a 1-mile maiden race at Santa Anita, Petruchio broke through in a similar event on Oct. 31 at Del Mar. With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard for the first time, Petruchio tracked the pace from third place, then rallied to win comfortably by 1 ¾ lengths.
Petruchio will switch back to dirt for the Los Alamitos Futurity, opening the door for additional improvement. He’s training sharply and brings tactical speed combined with tractability to the mix, setting the stage for a favorable trip. An ideal stalking journey should be in the offing, and the fact Petruchio is already proven racing around two turns is significant.
Let’s take a chance keying Petruchio and Red Flag in the trifecta, requiring one to win and the other to finish third or better in order for us to cash. For the remaining slot, we’ll use Spielberg with longshot #3 The Great One, who is slowly progressing in the right direction for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill.
$6 trifecta: 1,2 with 1,2,6 with 1,2,6 ($24)
What to say at the betting window: Los Alamitos, 4th race, $5 trifecta 1,2 with 1,2,6 with 1,2,6
$2 trifecta: 1,2 with 1,2,3 with 1,2,3 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Los Alamitos, 4th race, $5 trifecta 1,2 with 1,2,3 with 1,2,3
Good luck, and enjoy the race!