12/20/2008 12:00AM

Baffert has new shooter

Barbara D. Livingston
Pioneerof the Nile, fifth in the BC Juvenile, is in Midshipman's old stall.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The biggest cinch following the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was that Midshipman would be taken from this country by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable to prep for the Kentucky Derby in Dubai. It was a tough, but not unexpected, loss for Bob Baffert, who trained Midshipman. But when you train for Sheikh Mohammed, those are the rules.

Baffert might not be able to replace that likely champion, but days following the Breeders' Cup, he rejoined forces with owner Ahmed Zayat, who had removed his horses from Baffert's care earlier in the year. Among the horses Zayat turned over to Baffert was Pioneerof the Nile, who had finished fifth in the BC Juvenile, just 2 3/4 lengths behind Midshipman, while trained by Bill Mott.

Baffert had a spot all picked out for the new arrival.

"I put him in Midshipman's old stall, before it had a chance to get cold," Baffert said Thursday morning. "He looks like a Derby type to me. At least we can still dream in Technicolor."

On Saturday, Pioneerof the Nile will make his first start for Baffert in the Grade 1, $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park, and he just might end up the lukewarm favorite in a wide-open field of 12. But the race could fall any number of ways, and there are enough horses who various running styles to ensure a truly run race.

The Futurity, at 1 1/16 miles, is the eighth of 10 races scheduled for the next-to-last day of the meet. The card also includes the Cat's Cradle Handicap for California-bred fillies and mares, as well as a couple of good allowance races, one that features stakes winners Great Hunter, Lang Field, Mr. Chairman, and Zappa.

Baffert has won the Futurity three times, with Captain Steve, Point Given, and Real Quiet, each of whom used the Futurity as a launching pad. Giacomo was second in this race in 2004, Brother Derek won it three years ago, and Into Mischief and Colonel John ran one-two last year. More often than not, the Futurity is a preview of coming attractions.

"If you run well in Futurity, you know you've got a shot at the Derby," Baffert said.

Pioneerof the Nile has turned in several strong works at Santa Anita for the race. He drew well, landing post 5, and he has picked up jockey Garrett Gomez, the nation's leading rider.

"He's doing good. He's trained well," Baffert said. "He came in in good shape. That helps. He's a big, long-striding horse. He can run all day. When he starts to run a mile and an eighth and farther, that's when he'll separate himself."

Baffert is also sending out Ventana, who finished in a dead heat for third Nov. 23 in the Hollywood Prevue, a seven-furlong prep for the Futurity.

"He's got the speed to be out there. Maybe he can carry it all the way," Baffert said. "My horses have two different styles."

Trainers Doug O'Neill and Todd Pletcher also have two runners apiece in the race.

Pletcher will run Bittel Road and Hype, both of whom have raced exclusively on turf. They finished second and third, respectively, behind Mr. Rod in the Generous Stakes here Nov. 29.

Bittel Road has finished first or second in 4 of 5 starts, his lone clunker coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Pletcher said Bittel Road left his race in the paddock that day.

"There were too many horses in too small an area with too many people in there," Pletcher said. "He ended up too close to the pace. He never really settled.

"It hasn't been a problem before or since."

Hype also has proven consistent, finishing in the money in all four of his races.

Pletcher said both colts have trained well on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita, where Pletcher has his California string with assistant Michael McCarthy.

"It's worth taking a shot in what appears to be a wide-open race," Pletcher said. "It's $750,000, Grade 1. There's a tremendous amount of upside."

O'Neill has the bookends, with Azul Leon starting from the rail and Mark S the Cooler in the outside post.

Mr. Rod led from start to finish in the Generous and figures to be part of a lively pace with Ventana and Frumious, who has won three straight on Golden Gate's synthetic surface.

Chocolate Candy and J P Jammer ran one-two Nov. 8 in the Real Quiet, the 1 1/16-mile prep for the Futurity.

I Want Revenge defeated maidens last time in his fourth start, but his first around two turns. He is improving.

Axel Foley, an import from England, has won once in two starts, both at seven furlongs. He blew out three furlongs in 35.60 seconds on Thursday morning at Hollywood Park. The time was the best of five at the distance.