12/16/2010 1:34PM

CashCall Futurity also speaks of past


There was a temptation to discount the field for Saturday’s running of the $750,000 CashCall Futurity until the Hollywood Park media guide fell open to the page relating the recent history of the race. A speed-read of the first three finishers over the last five years revealed the winners of a Preakness, a Haskell, a Travers, two Wood Memorials, three Santa Anita Derbies, and a 2-year-old championship.

Figuring this was a statistical fluke – on a par with crime rates in Singapore – a quick peek at the earlier runnings of the 21st century, when the race was still the Hollywood Futurity, displayed among the 1-2-3’s the winners of a Kentucky Derby, two more Haskells, a Travers, a Blue Grass, a Santa Anita Derby, a Preakness, a Belmont, and another Eclipse Award as 2-year-old male champion.

Okay, I give. As the last lap for quality 2-year-olds aching to be 3, the Futurity has held the value it established waaaay back in the early 1980’s when unfinished waifs like Snow Chief, Roving Boy, Ferdinand, Desert Wine, Life’s Magic, and Stephan’s Odyssey staked a claim on the future with solid Futurity performances.

It’s probably the distance of a mile and one-sixteenth, and for certain it is the timing, because no matter who shows up, the Futurity means business. After this, there are no breaks in the relentless grind to the Kentucky Derby. When the most successful of this year’s Futurity colts awaken Sunday morning they’ll all get a nice, easy walk and gestures of appreciation. Then they will be shown the number 139, which is how many days they must survive in order to make it to the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011. Good luck to all.

Comma to the Top, a grandson of Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie, has earned lead billing in the Futurity by virtue of his victories in the Real Quiet and Generous Stakes at the meet. Still, it would be a mistake to judge Del Mar Futurity winner J P’s Gusto by his finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, the only bad day he has ever had. In the Norfolk at Hollywood in October, at the Futurity’s distance and conditions, J P’s was as good a second as you’d want. He also dusted Comma to the Top twice at Del Mar.

Still, given the fact that even late 2-year-old performers have upside, it would not hurt to cast attention elsewhere in the Futurity field for contenders. There’s nothing wrong with the looks of Rustler Hustler, now trained by Rick Dutrow and equipped with the nation’s leading man, Ramon Dominguez. Industry Leader, a son of Cherokee Run, was a promising second in the seven-furlong Prevue at Hollywood after a smart debut. And Gourmet Dinner comes to town with all that Delta Jackpot swag jingling in his saddlebags. Taking him seriously off that race alone is a stretch, but then there are all those fine lines at Calder, where a lot of very good 2-year-olds are hatched. The filly Awesome Feather ring a bell?

Slammer Time comes into the Futurity off a pair of tough skirmishes. After two starts he won his first race against straight maidens on Oct. 11, then took the California Cup Juvenile, at the Futurity distance, on Oct. 30. The margins were a nose and a head.

Slammer Time is trained by Gary Mandella, who was at the side of his Hall of Fame father, Richard, to win Futurities with Afternoon Deelites and Into Mischief. The colt is owned by the Alto Racing partnership of former New Mexico racing commissioner Gil Moutray, aviation executive Dub Kennedy, and Eddie Harrell and his son, Curtis Harrell, who run Citation Oil & Gas. Slammer Time cost them $120,000 as a Keeneland yearling.

“He was entered about seven days earlier than when he broke his maiden, but that was the famous day when the horses for the first race waited an hour in the receiving barn while they tried to fix the racetrack after that rainstorm,“ Mandella said. “That was actually okay with me when they finally didn’t run, because he was up there at 2-5, and after all that wait I was in no mood to rush.

“What that cost him was time,” Mandella added. “He ran back in 19 days going into the Cal Cup, so I really didn’t think he had a chance to improve. But it was a better race for him, better than it looks on paper, and now he’s coming back in six weeks. He’s definitely getting smarter, relaxing more, and I think that will all work to his advantage, even though he’s obviously not been tested for class as some of the other horses in the race.”

Slammer Time is a son of the Gone West stallion Grand Slam and out of Excessively Wicked, by In Excess. He was bred by the Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, where In Excess rose to fame as a sire of fast and precocious young runners under the supervision of farm owner Scoop Vessels, who was killed in a plane crash this past August. Vessels was 58.

Last weekend at Los Alamitos, the Vessels family was in the news for all the right reasons when their home grown 2-year-old One Quick First Down took the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, California’s richest horse race.

“Not that anyone would forget, but that win showed just how influential he was,“ Mandella said of Vessels. “So I’m hoping we get a little good karma from Scoop.”