Baffert’s most recent winner — Point Given in 2000 — was more accomplished entering the Grade I event, but his first — Real Quiet in 1997 — was less heralded. Both went on to win two legs of the Triple Crown, Point Given the Preakness and Belmont and Real Quiet the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Real Quiet came within a nose of sweeping the Triple Crown.
Ventana, a son of 2002 Futurity winner Toccet, broke his maiden in his first start at Belmont Park in September, but has failed to win in three starts since then. In his most recent start, he finished in a dead heat for third in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue.
Twelve horses were entered in the Futurity, which has been a launching board for six Kentucky Derby winners — Gato Del Sol (1982), Ferdinand (1986), Alysheba (1987), Thunder Gulch (1995), Real Quiet (1998) and Giacomo (2004). The field lines up as follows from the rail out:
Azul Leon, with Joel Rosario up; J P Jammer, Aaron Gryder; Hype, Alex Solis; Axel Foley, Michael Baze; Pioneerof the Nile, Garrett Gomez; Chocolate Candy, Rafael Bejarano; I Want Revenge, Joe Talamo; Ventana, Corey Nakatani; Frumious, Victor Espinoza; Bittel Road, Mike Smith; Mr. Rod, Chantal Sutherland, and Mark S the Cooler, Martin Garcia. All carry 121 pounds.
Baffert, whose other Futurity win came with Captain Steve in 1999, will equal the record held by D. Wayne Lukas if successful Saturday. Chocolate Candy, a son of Candy Ride owned by the Craig Family Trust, is just one of several formidable foes.
Chocolate Candy has improved steadily since making his career bow for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer with a sixth-place finish here in May and enters the Futurity with successive wins. The latest came when he rallied under Gomez in the 1 1/16-mile Real Quiet Stakes here in November.
Azul Leon, one of two starters trained by Doug O’Neill, won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship here in July and rallied to finish second most recently in the Hollywood Prevue. He also crossed the finish line a nose behind Kelly Leak in the Best Pal Stakes, but got the victory when the former was disqualified. He tops the field with $202,400 in earnings.
O’Neill will also saddled maiden Mark S the Cooler, a son of Johar who is owned by race sponsor J. Paul Reddam. A third starter, European import Axel Foley, named for the character portrayed by Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop,” is also bedded down in the O’Neill barn.
Axel Foley, who cleared quarantine Monday following a 12-hour flight from Luxemburg to LAX, is trained by John Best and was accompanied here by assistant Martin Smith. He broke his maiden at second asking at seven furlongs on a synthetic surface at Lingfield in October.
“The jockey who rode him that day just smacked him once and said he could get a mile and a quarter,” Smith said of the come-from-behind victory. “We’ve been planning on this race since early November.”
Judi Partridge’s J P Jammer set the pace before settling for second in the Real Quiet; Bittel Road and Hype finished second and third, respectively, for trainer Todd Pletcher on turf in the Generous Stakes behind upset front-running victor Mr. Rod, and Frumious has won three straight races at Golden Gate Fields for trainer Jeff Bonde.
The Futurity will run as the eighth race on Saturday’s ten-race program at Hollywood Park, which will also include the Cat’s Cradle Handicap. First post time is at 12:30 p.m.