Del Mar Futurity is summer's finale
DEL MAR, Calif. -- As he stood on the racetrack following the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 10, trainer Mike Machowsky stared at the blinking lights on the tote board, watched the video the stewards were reviewing, and was resigned to his fate. He knew his colt, Kelly Leak, was coming down.
When the announcement was made, the only thing that surprised Machowsky was that Kelly Leak was moved back from first to fourth, not second. While several of Kelly Leak's owners reacted bitterly - one gave a one-fingered salute to the stewards - Machowsky stayed calm. "I didn't think it was a terrible call," he said at his barn Monday morning. "But I thought maybe they could have put him second."
What comforted Machowsky was the knowledge, he said, that Kelly Leak "ran real well for only his second time out." On Wednesday, as Machowsky said, "We'll try again."
Kelly Leak will try to avenge his Best Pal disqualification in the Grade 1, $250,000 Del Mar Futurity, the feature race on the 43rd and final day of the meet. Ten other 2-year-olds are entered, including unbeaten Canadian invader Southern Exchange, and such impressive maiden winners from this meet as Believe in Hope and Midshipman.
One horse who is missing, though, is Azul Leon, who was placed first in the Best Pal. By design, he is skipping the Futurity to await the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 28.
Machowsky originally said Kelly Leak would skip the Futurity, too, but changed his mind after seeing how Kelly Leak came out of the Best Pal.
"Coming into the meet, I didn't like that there was 3 1/2 weeks between the Best Pal and the Futurity," Machowsky said. "He ran in the Best Pal after a layoff. I thought he'd back off his feed, but he didn't. He gets over the track well in the morning and the afternoon. As good as he's done, it would be stupid to pass this up."
Kelly Leak won his debut at Hollywood Park on June 5, his lone start prior to the Best Pal. He prefers to lay midpack early, a style that should suit him as he stretches out from the 6 1/2 furlongs of the Best Pal to the seven furlongs of the Futurity.
Southern Exchange is in from Woodbine, where he romped in three races, all on Polytrack. Jono Jones rode Southern Exchange at Woodbine, but super agent Ron Anderson muscled Garrett Gomez onto Southern Exchange for the Futurity.
Believe in Hope finished with a rush when beating 11 rivals in his debut going 5 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 2. His trainer, Ron Ellis, won the Futurity in 2004 with Declan's Moon, who went on to be named that year's champion 2-year-old male.
Midshipman was a fast winner of his debut on Aug. 17 for trainer Bob Baffert, who has compared Midshipman favorably to Congaree. Baffert said he's less worried about the 17-day turnaround for Midshipman than having to break from post 3, the same spot Midnight Lute had in the Pat O'Brien.
"I don't like my post," Baffert said. "He was drawn outside the first time."
Still, Baffert admits, "He's got a lot of talent. He's got a great future."
"It was either this race or ship out of town, but with the Breeders' Cup being here," Baffert said, referring to Santa Anita playing host to the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 24-25, "it makes sense to stay here. This is a large field, so he'll get something out of it."
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who is bypassing the Futurity with Azul Leon, still has two chances to win the race, with Escalon and Wild Wild Posse, both of whom are coming off debut victories against maidens at this meet.
Trainer Jeff Mullins expected to also run two horses in the Futurity, but will fly solo with Blazing Spirit after Arashi Cat came up with a quarter crack. Blazing Spirit has finished second in both his starts, including to Arashi Cat in a maiden race on Aug. 9 that was the faster of two divisions that day.
"If he'd have gotten a better trip, he wouldn't be a maiden," Mullins said.
Coronet of a Baron crossed the wire third in the Best Pal, then was moved to second on the disqualification of Kelly Leak.
Kerwin's Way, Mensa Heat, and Street Hero complete the field.
The Futurity is the ninth race on a 10-race card that begins at 2 p.m. Pacific.