Updated on 12/23/2014 2:26PM

Dortmund wins three-horse photo in Los Alamitos Futurity

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Benoit & Associates
Dortmund (3), with Martin Garcia aboard, narrowly beats Firing Line and Mr. Z in the Los Alamitos Futurity.

CYPRESS, Calif. - Dortmund remained unbeaten and prevailed in both his stakes debut and his first start around two turns in the Grade 1, $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity on Saturday, but it wasn’t easy, for both Firing Line and Mr. Z made him work for it in one of the most dramatic and exciting races of the year.

 Dortmund looked like a cinch with three furlongs to run after sitting behind the dueling leaders, but neither Firing Line nor Mr. Z was ready to pack it in, and it look the length of the elongated stretch for Dortmund ($3.20), the favorite, to get up and beat Firing Line by a head, with Mr. Z just a nose farther back in third.

 Those three were 8 1/4 lengths clear of Bench Warrant, with No Problem last in the field of five. Dortmund was timed in 1:40.86, which is a track record for 1 1/16 miles, though there have been few races at that distance in this, the first year of two-turn Thoroughbred racing at Los Alamitos.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

 Bob Baffert, who trains Dortmund, said he was “holding his breath” down the stretch.

“I wasn’t sure how he would handle the turns here,” Baffert said of Dortmund, who is nearly 17 hands tall. With his size and chestnut-colored coat, he is very reminiscent of the former Baffert runner Point Given, who won this important race for 2-year-olds at Hollywood Park in 2000 and the following year won both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

 “He’s a big horse, but he’s got a good mind,” Baffert said. “He’s big enough to be a handful if he wanted to be.”

 As with Point Given, Baffert said the strategy with Dortmund is to “let him break, let him gather himself, and he’ll take you there.”

 Dortmund, starting from post 3, broke sharply, and was right with Mr. Z and Firing Line for the first eighth of a mile before jockey Martin Garcia was able to let him fall into a perfect stalking position behind Mr. Z and Firing Line as the runners went around the first turn.

 Dortmund got a bit eager heading into the backstretch, but remained in third as the leaders clicked off fractions of 21.98 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 45.29 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:09.64 for six furlongs.

 Dortmund loomed up outside those two at the top of the stretch, and they were three abreast for most of the stretch, with Dortmund gradually getting up in the shadow of the wire.

 Firing Line was between horses down the stretch. His rider, Rafael Bejarano, said he was bumped repeatedly by Mr. Z, who was trying to lug out the final six furlongs of the race.

 “It probably cost me the race,” Bejarano said.

 Mike Smith, aboard Mr. Z, said his left arm was sore after the race from trying to keep Mr. Z from lugging out badly.

 “I could have wiped those guys out next to me,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to pull that hard.”

 Dortmund’s career began on Nov. 2, when he beat maidens sprinting at Santa Anita. He followed that up with a victory in a one-turn mile in an allowance race on Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs, a race Baffert chose to both prep him for the Los Alamitos Futurity and to get him used to the dirt at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby will be run May 2.

 The Los Alamitos Futurity was just three weeks after the Churchill race. Dortmund has been asked to do a lot in a short amount of time, and though this margin was razor thin, he has passed every test.

The win was worth 10 points on the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby should more than the maximum 20 runners enter.

Dortmund earned $300,000 for the win. He is the second major stakes winner in the past two months for the team of Baffert, Garcia, and owner Kaleem Shah, who captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Bayern.