Updated on 09/15/2011 2:37PM

Crown chase begins in West

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Siphonic, who wired the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity taking the inside path at Keeneland in October, has drawn post 4 for the Hollywood Futurity.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The Triple Crown build-up in California begins in earnest Saturday with the $460,750 Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park, the last major stakes of 2001 for juveniles.

With three runners from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in the eight-horse field - Siphonic, Publication, and Officer, who were third through fifth - the Grade 1 Futurity is a vital test for Kentucky Derby prospects. By sundown on Saturday, the rankings of California's prospects will be clearer.

"This race gives you a good foundation for the races coming up in the winter," said trainer David Hofmans, who starts Siphonic. "For a young horse to get a good race going two turns is great. It gives you a chance to pick and choose the races for the winter."

Deservingly, *, who won the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in October, is the likely favorite over Officer, who is trained by Bob Baffert.

*, the beaten favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and the California Cup Juvenile a week later, needs a victory to restore his sullied reputation. Yougottawanna, who beat Officer in the California Cup Juvenile, is a contender, seeking his first graded stakes win.

Behind that quartet are a group of talented colts attempting an upset: They are Mountain Rage, a stakes winner on turf on Nov. 24, and Fonz's, Popular, and Labamta Babe, the first three finishers in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes over seven furlongs on Nov. 17. Brigadier Jones, a maiden winner on the English all-weather circuit, is an outsider.

Last year, Baffert and Hofmans finished one-two in the Hollywood Futurity with Point Given and Millennium Wind.

Hofmans has never won the Hollywood Futurity, run over 1 1/16 miles. Jerry Bailey, who rarely rides in California in December, has the mount on Siphonic, who has shown remarkable versatility in his last two starts.

In the Breeders' Futurity, Siphonic led throughout from the rail, drawing off to win by six lengths. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, once again breaking from the rail, Siphonic stalked the pace, led in midstretch, but finished third, 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Johannesburg.

"He's very flexible," Hofmans said. "If the pace is slow, he can be on the lead. If it's fast, he can be off of them. It depends on what they do with Officer."

Once the clear leader of the juvenile division, Officer has lost his last two starts, finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and second in the California Cup Juvenile.

Officer will have his third jockey in three races on Saturday; David Flores replaces Gary Stevens, who is riding in Hong Kong.

Officer is unlikely to go favored for the first time in his seven-race career, which includes wins in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity and Grade 1 Champagne Stakes over 1 1/16 miles.

In most of his races, he was on or near the lead and and used his speed to pull away in early stretch. In the California Cup, Baffert told Stevens to rate Officer at the back of the field. Closing from 10th, Officer gained a prominent position at the end of the backstretch and led in early stretch. In the final furlong, Yougottawanna caught Officer and pulled away to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Baffert is not disclosing his race tactics for Saturday but did say, "I'm sure that we'll be up there close."

A fast pace would help Fonz's, Publication, and Mountain Rage. Fonz's, a stalker, is making his first start beyond seven furlongs.

Publication closed from last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to finish fourth, 3 1/4 lengths behind Johannesberg. Trained by Terry Knight, Publication won the Arlington-Washington Futurity in his second start, on Sept. 29.

Baffert admits he is gambling with Mountain Rage, who pulled a mild upset with a win in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes on turf on Nov. 24. A maiden winner in a sprint at Fairplex Park on Sept. 23, Mountain Rage is unproven on the main track.

"He works great on the dirt so we need to find out how he does with a step up in class," Baffert said.

For all of the colts, it is another test in a campaign that Hofmans said will fly by quickly.

"May is as close as Valentine's Day," Hofmans said. "It will be here fast."

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