12/18/2009 12:00AM

Early prep for Derby prospects

Barbara D. Livingston
Lookin at Lucky, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, seeks his third Grade 1 win in Saturday's CashCall Futurity.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The calendar may still say 2009, but for all intents and purposes here in California, the road to the 2010 Triple Crown kicks off on Saturday at Hollywood Park. For more than a decade, the CashCall Futurity has become a preview of coming attractions, featuring top 2-year-olds who, more often than not, go on to become prominent 3-year-olds the next spring.

The race should again live up to that promise this year. Lookin at Lucky, the leading 2-year-old based in North America this year, heads an eight-horse field that also includes Noble's Promise, the .

They will be seeking to follow in the footsteps of numerous horses who have used the 1 1/16-mile Futurity as a springboard to success.

Real Quiet won the race, then named the Hollywood Futurity, in 1997, and captured the Derby the following year. Point Given, the winner in 2000, the next year won the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. Five years ago, Giacomo finished second in this race, and the following spring won the Derby. Three of the last four winners of the Santa Anita Derby (Pioneerof the Nile, Colonel John, and Brother Derek) finished first or second in this race. And two of the last four winners of the Wood Memorial (I Want Revenge, and Bob and John) finished in the top three in this race.

Bob Baffert, who trains Lookin at Lucky, has won the race four times, tying him with D. Wayne Lukas for the most among trainers. He sends out Lookin at Lucky, Marcello, and The Program in quest of a record fifth Futurity win.

"This is when you find out what you really have," Baffert said. "This is the closest surface we have to dirt."

Of the three synthetic surfaces at Southern California racetracks, Hollywood Park's Cushion Track plays the most like dirt. It is an important consideration for horses who will eventually run in Triple Crown races, all of which are on dirt. Lookin at Lucky won his debut here in the summer, and after Saturday, he will get a vacation before his final push to the Triple Crown races.

"I just want to run him a couple of times before the Derby," Baffert said.

The BC Juvenile was the first loss in Lookin at Lucky's five-race career. He won the Del Mar Futurity and the Norfolk Stakes earlier. The Futurity would be his third Grade 1 victory.

Baffert's other starters are not nearly as accomplished. Marcello, who finished last in the Del Mar Futurity, subsequently won a slow allowance race at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, then was second in his turf debut in the . The Program has improved since being sent around two turns. He defeated maidens, then was second in an allowance race here.

Noble's Promise, the likely second choice, finished just a half-length behind Lookin at Lucky in the BC Juvenile. He had won three straight prior to that, including the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

"He's training better now than he was before the Breeders' Cup," said Jordan Blair, the West Coast-based assistant to Ken McPeek, who trains Noble's Promise. "He missed a work before the Breeders' Cup two weeks out. He's been training up a storm."

Seattle Ruler was third in the last time out to American Lion, who is passing this race to await the Santa Anita meeting; American Lion worked a half-mile in 51 seconds on Thursday morning at Santa Anita. In his only previous two-turn race, Seattle Ruler finished ninth of 11 in the Norfolk.

Eastern invader Wildlee Special most recently scored a runaway win against maidens at the Meadowlands.

Brady Blue Eyes comes off a win against maidens here in his first start around two turns.

Make Music for Me, still a maiden after five starts, was second to Lookin at Lucky in both the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity this summer.

The Futurity is the ninth race on a 10-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Pacific. There are three other significant races for 2-year-olds on the undercard.

In addition to the , a sprint that goes as the fourth race, there are a pair of maiden races, the second and seventh races, both at six furlongs.

Mr. Ricochet, third in his debut at Keeneland, and Quiet Invader, an unlucky loser to Stuka entrant Domonation here last month, head the second race.

The seventh appears to have come up the stronger of the split maiden races. Exfusion, a good third in his debut, takes on first-timers Clutch Player, Rauschenberg, and Street Haven. Also of note is first-time starter Dontsellmetofelons. He is a full brother to I Want Revenge. Like I Want Revenge, he was bred and is owned by David Lanzman.