It may be a bit extreme to think that trainer Ron Ellis is facing desperate times, but he is facing a time calling for some measures he didn't think he'd need to call on quite so soon.
And it's all because of a precocious 2-year-old named Believe in Hope.
But there he was in the winner's circle on Saturday, August 2, after a one-length, $28.40 upset victory at 5 1/2 furlongs on the main track in 1:03.81. And whatever schedule Ellis and the JayEmEss Stable of Mace and Samantha Siegel had for the colt has now been accelerated dramatically.
So the trainer's challenge now becomes how can he get his maiden winner ready to step into the Grade I Del Mar Futurity?
"We always had the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as the long-term goal, but we thought we'd take it in a slower way," the ever-conservative Ellis said. "But when he won going short, that really changed things."
So did the victory turn up the pressure on the trainer? "Oh yeah, yeah," he said. "We really had him more on a schedule for the Breeders' Cup rather than on a schedule for the Futurity, but now that he's won, there's really no other place for him to run.
"If he had run third the first time out, we probably would have come back in a maiden race and hoped to have won easy and then go on to Oak Tree where I could stretch him out in the Norfolk [Stakes] and then, hopefully, into the Breeders' Cup.
"So I had him on a little bit slower plan than we're going to end up with, but he might be good enough to handle that."
Ellis believes working the youngster in company is a key to getting him ready a bit quicker than he thought would be necessary. "I've worked him in company now with older horses, to give him that kind of experience," the mild-mannered trainer said. "That helps him learn how to relax and not be intimidated. I worry about the intimidation factor, but I think working with an older horse gives him a chance to learn how to handle that."
Even so, Ellis does not feel any necessity to pressure him unduly. "Because I think he's going to be better going around two turns, in the back of my mind I'm not leaning on him to where this is the only race [the 7-furlong Futurity] that matters. We'll be trying to win this race, but with the idea of winning the Breeders' Cup [Juvenile] as the long-term goal.
"It's hard to have them ready to fire at their best every time. I'm trying to rely on his natural ability to win this race, but also to not empty the tank."
Ellis has been impressed with the colt's demeanor almost as much as his natural talents. "He's really smart," he said. "He acts like an older horse. He still looks around a little, but takes most things pretty well in stride."
Believe in Hope is a second generation of the family to land in Ellis' barn. He trained the colt's dam, Hope Rises, by Mr. Greeley. "She would go middle distances well -- a mile and a mile and a sixteenth. She won four out of eight starts."
Ellis remembers that the Siegels, father Mace and daughter Samantha, bought Hope Rises as a weanling. "She was gorgeous, but had ankle trouble and only ran eight times," he said, adding, "The colt gets a lot of his class from his mother. He's bred on the bottom side to be a really good horse."
Recalling the winning maiden race, Ellis said, "He came from ninth to win and that's a good sign. He sat off horses and Jose [jockey Jose Valdivia Jr.] said the colt was perfect until he pushed the button. When he pushed the button he didn't expect him to blast off like he did.
"Jose said he just wanted to get through a hole so he could pass a couple of horses, but when he asked him to run he just shot past the whole field." Valdivia retains the mount for the Futurity.
The next stop after that will be the Norfolk Stakes and then, Ellis hopes, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
A victory there could pave the way to an Eclipse Award for Believe in Hope, something that the 48-year-old trainer accomplished with Declan's Moon for the Siegels in 2004. On the way to the Eclipse, Declan's Moon captured both that year's Del Mar Futurity and the Hollywood Futurity.