Saturday December 8th: Races 5 and 7 at Los Alamitos. The $300,000 Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity Stakes run at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for two year olds and the $300,000 Grade 1 Starlet Stakes run at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for two year old fillies. (Post Times: 5:28 PM EST & 6:28 PM EST).
(The format for this week’s column is going to be significantly different due to the nature of these two races today at Los Alamitos as there are some very short priced favorites entered into each race along with several other runners that appear to be overmatched and are listed at very long odds. Therefore I will try and provide some value should any readers choose to play either of these races today. Thus rather than give out the normal top three selections for each of these races, a sole top selection for each race will be provided instead along with another runner that stands out as a viable alternative to the top selection and looms as the most likely contender to spring an upset.)
The Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity Stakes:
Since 2008, trainer Bob Baffert has won seven of the last ten editions of this race including the last four years in a row. This year he sends out two runners in this six horse field, the (1) Improbable and the (6) Mucho Gusto. It should also be noted that over the past five years with two year olds running in graded stakes races during the thoroughbred meet at Los Alamitos, Bob Baffert has won five of thirteen starts and overall nine of those runners finished in the money; however, all of those winners went off at less than even money odds while his runners that were listed at above odds on at post time failed to win. Moreover there is the distinct possibility that at least one of his runners (the most likely candidate being Improbable) goes off at less than even money today. Yet of the two Baffert trainees entered today, I actually prefer Improbable over Mucho Gusto. While neither colt has yet to attempt today’s eight and a half furlong distance and neither has raced a two turn route before (Improbable’s one mile effort at Churchill Downs in the $100K Street Sense Stakes back in November was a one turn race), the slight advantage for success stretching out to this distance has to be given to Improbable based upon his pedigree. Not only is his Dosage Profile (12-9-13-0-0) front-loaded with sprinter’s speed but it is also nicely complimented by a great deal of stamina for excelling at the classic distances. Thus Improbable appears to have an excellent ratio of speed to stamina to be able to succeed today. Additionally, his performance in that last out effort was simply impressive.
While it’s true that he may not have beaten much in that Street Sense Stakes field, Improbable’s seven and a quarter length victory along with the 99 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) that he posted in doing so is fairly difficult to ignore, considering that it is the highest last out speed figure amongst the entire field by a wide margin. Additionally, Improbable has drawn a favorable rail position today and although the TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated that he is likely to be forwardly placed and perhaps even on the lead by the halfway point of the race, I would disagree with that assessment. It may be more probable that his jockey, Drayden Van Dyke, takes up a more tactical approach to positioning Improbable in this race (especially given that in two starts Improbable has broken slowly each time and has never shown any inclination to want to be on the lead) and instead lets him stalk the initial leaders whilst sitting just a few lengths back. This would allow him to be in an optimal position to make a challenge for the lead either in the final turn or immediately after exiting it. Improbable’s most recent work over the main track at Santa Anita on December 3rd was incredibly sharp and it appears that Baffert has him primed and ready to fire today. Moreover, Baffert has done incredibly well over the past three years with runners that won their last race as he has won 35% of his last 334 starts and finished in the money in 66% of those races. Furthermore, over the past 60 days when Van Dyke and Baffert have teamed up, Van Dyke has won with an outstanding 53% of his mounts for Baffert. Thus all things considered, Improbable appears to be the horse to beat today as he will likely try and give Baffert his fifth straight Cash Call Futurity title; however, be aware that Improbable will likely not be going off anywhere near his 6/5 ML odds.
As a possible alternative to Improbable, then perhaps one should look no further than the Richard Mandella trainee (5) Extra Hope. While it’s true that it did take four tries for this son of Shanghai Bobby to break his maiden, the way he did it cannot be overlooked. On October 21st at Santa Anita, whilst contesting a 50K Maiden race over eight and a half furlongs, Extra Hope broke alertly and initially sat just back of the early leader, stalking the pace. However, he made his bid for the lead in the final turn and seized control of the lead turning into the stretch. He was then able to draw clear and coast home, eventually winning by eight and three quarter lengths. For his efforts he earned an 89 BSR, which actually ranks as the highest amongst the field at the distance (only one other runner in the field has even attempted 1 1/16 miles before). His last out effort at Del Mar in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) over seven furlongs wasn’t great as he ran evenly throughout the race and ended up finishing fourth, two and a quarter lengths behind Mucho Gusto.
However, a return to a two-turn route distance certainly helps his chances of hitting the podium today as does his running style. Extra Hope is primarily a pace-stalking type horse and he figures to be running about mid-pack in the initial stages of today’s race. Yet, in both of his route efforts at Santa Anita he has shown good closing speed (he is the only horse in the entire field who’s Brisnet Late Pace figures are actually faster than his Early Pace Figures) and he figures to be flying late down the track should he get an ideal trip and pace setup. Apparently Mandella was impressed enough with Flavien Prat’s handling of Extra Hope in his last race to give him the mount once again today which is an encouraging sign as over the course of this year Prat has been winning at a 23% rate in route races. Extra Hope’s experience racing at two-turns could be crucial to his chances of upsetting the Baffert pair today and if he goes off anywhere near his 7/2 ML odds then he potentially could offer some value to his backers.
The Grade 1 Starlet Stakes:
Once again Bob Baffert has a pair of runners entered into this field and once again both of his trainees’ ML odds are quite short. However, Baffert has not had nearly as much success in this race as he has had in the Futurity; in fact he has only won two of the last five editions of this event, most recently with the filly Dream Tree last year. The two fillies that Baffert saddles this year are the (2) Mother Mother a daughter of Pioneerof the Nile and the (6) Chasing Yesterday the younger half-sister to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. In this race, I actually prefer the more tactical of the two Baffert runners, Chasing Yesterday.
While this will be the first time for this filly to stretchout to a route distance, her pedigree certainly suggests that she’ll be more than able to handle the additional one and a half furlongs today. The TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated that her stablemate Mother Mother will likely be on the lead early on with the Doug O’Neill trainee Sold It in hot pursuit and Chasing Yesterday taking up an outside stalking position somewhere mid-pack. In both of her last two efforts when sprinting against listed stakes company back at Santa Anita in October and Del Mar last month, Chasing Yesterday displayed good tactical speed by rating just a few lengths behind her rivals before moving up to challenge for the lead in the final turn and then successfully seizing control of the race down the stretch. It is quite likely that Drayden Van Dyke (who has been aboard Chasing Yesterday for both of her stakes wins) will employ a similar strategy once again, hoping that it will pay off. Over the past three years Baffert has done fairly well with runners trying a route distance for the first time as he has been winning at 27% (from 127 starts) and finishing in the money 56% of the time. Additionally, Van Dyke has been riding well in route races this year as he currently boasts a 22% win rate. However, Chasing Yesterday has been made the 9/5 ML favorite in this race and while there is no doubt that she certainly is talented enough to win, she does appear to be vulnerable.
The most likely runner in this field to spoil Baffert’s hopes of a repeat title is the Michael McCarthy trainee the (1) Vibrance, a daughter of Violence. Not only is this filly the only runner in the entire field to have attempted today’s eight and a half furlong distance but she is also among the classiest of entrants with her last two efforts having come against Grade 1 company. She finished strongly running second to Bellafina in the Chandelier Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita back in September and most recently she ran third behind Jaywalk and Restless Rider in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at odds of 35.40-1. In that effort she earned a 96 BSR which actually ranks as the highest last out speed figure amongst the entire field. It is also very encouraging to see that as the distances have increased and the competition has gotten stiffer, Vibrance has continued to improve in each successive start and her speed figures have continually gotten faster. Although she did draw the rail today, she has shown excellent early speed in her previous two starts which should allow her to tuck in behind the two likely initial leaders, drawn just to her outside, and take up a nice stalking trip. It is interesting to note that this will be her fifth start this year not only at her fourth different track but also with her fifth different pilot onboard and so far, she has responded fairly well despite the changes in scenery and jockey. Today Flavien Prat gets the call to ride and over the course of this year he has done well when riding E/P type mounts such as Vibrance, having won 24% of his 504 starts. Meanwhile over the past three years, McCarthy has done alright with two year old runners (18% win rate from 97 starts) and with runners racing at route distances (19% win rate from 244 starts). Vibrance looms as the most likely contender to spring a mild upset in this race and if she stays at or around her 5/2 ML odds then she offers the potential for a modest payout to any of her backers.