Martin Smith, assistant and exercise rider for English trainer John Best, hopes the stable enjoys as much success in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity Saturday at Hollywood Park with Axel Foley as it did with Square Eddie in the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland in October.
Axel Foley looms as the mystery horse in the Grade I Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track. He galloped on the main track for the second straight morning Wednesday after clearing quarantine here Monday following a 12-hour flight from Luxemburg to LAX Friday.
Square Eddie ran a strong second in a six-furlong stake on Polytrack at Kempton before his Grade I victory at Keeneland and came back to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for trainer Doug O’Neill.
Axel Foley, who is in the O’Neill barn, broke his maiden at second asking at seven furlongs on synthetic at Lingfield on Oct. 15. Smith is confident the colt will also acquit himself favorably in the Futurity.
“The jockey who rode him that day just smacked him once and said he could get a mile and a quarter,” said Smith of the come-from-behind victory with visions of the 2009 Kentucky Derby in the back of his mind.
First, the Kentucky-bred son of Officer must prove he can get a mile and a sixteenth in the Futurity. “We’ve been planning on this race since early November,” said Smith.
Smith said the flight took nothing out of the colt, owned by Kent Bloodstock. “This horse is absolutely professional and takes everything in stride,” said Smith. “We will probably give him a tiny blowout Thursday morning.”
Axel Foley, named for the Eddie Murphy character in “Beverly Hills Cop,” was purchased for $165,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September sale, the same auction at which Square Eddie was purchased for $200,000. Square Eddie is in training here with O’Neill, being pointed for the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita next year.
Smith, 32, has worked three years for Best, who is scheduled to arrive from England Thursday. Smith was all smiles on a cool rainy morning. “This weather is still better than what I’m used to,” said Smith. “This is like a spring morning for me.”
O’Neill was busy putting the final touches on two other Futurity entrants, one expected, one a surprise. Graded stakes winner Azul Leon has long been pointed to this race and will be joined by maiden Mark S the Cooler.
Azul Leon seeks to become the first Hollywood Juvenile Championship winner to annex the Futurity since Swiss Yodeler in 1996 and also hopes to follow in the footsteps of his sire, Lion Heart, the 2003 winner.
Azul Leon has won three of four sprints but has been unplaced in two attempts at 1 1/16 miles. However, he has run well in all three outings at his base here, and both routes were at Santa Anita, in the Norfolk Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“Azul Leon is a proven sprinter and not proven at two turns,” said O’Neill of the Joseph LaCombe homebred. “But he trains like added ground won’t be a problem. He’s training fantastic and ready to roll.”
O’Neill expects Azul Leon, a closing second in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue Stakes in his last start, to again come from off the pace. “It’s up to the hottest rider on the circuit (Joel Rosario) wherever he wants him, but I expect to see him come flying late from the back of the pack,” said O’Neill.
Mark S the Cooler is owned by Reddam. “The CashCall Futurity is named for Paul’s business,” said O’Neill of the race sponsor. “He wanted to give the horse a chance. Even though he’s a maiden, he has been training well.
“In his last start in the Real Quiet Stakes, we put blinkers on, and he was too fresh,” said O’Neill. “We’re taking the blinkers off this time, and hope he will settle.”
VACARE TO CARRY 122 IN DAHLIA
Multiple graded stakes winner Vacare has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds for the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap, a Grade II test for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf that highlights closing day Sunday.
Vacare, a 5-year-old mare trained by Christophe Clement, has won seven of 13 starts and earned $1,123,706, the most of any nominee. She won the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland at 3, the Grade II First Lady Stakes at Keeneland at 4, and the Grade II Palomar Handicap at Del Mar this year. Jose Valdivia, Jr., has the call back.
A large field is shaping up: Vacare, Valdivia, 122; Lady Digby, Garrett Gomez, 118; Valbenny, Alex Solis, 117; Green Lyons, Joel Rosario, 115; I Can See, 115; Belle Allure, Corey Nakatani, 114; Grace and Power, Victor Espinoza, 114; Storybook, Mike Smith, 114; In My Glory, Martin Garcia, 113; and Don’t Forget Faith, Alex Quinonez, 110.
Trainer Patrick Biancone said from Santa Anita that three nominees--Belliflore (114), Place De L’Etoile (111) and Allicansayiswow (110)--are scheduled to arrive from Europe this evening, and he will make a decision on whether to enter any Thursday after inspecting them.
Two other European imports, Belle Allure from France and Don’t Forget Faith from England, arrived this week for trainers Rupert Pritchard-Gordon and Clive Cox, respectively, and went to the Ben Cecil stable here.