09/03/2007 11:00PM

Futurity draws large, strong field

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Drill Down won his maiden in his second career start on July 28 at Del Mar. He is among the favorites in the Del Mar Futurity.

DEL MAR, Calif. - If nothing else, Polytrack has kept hope alive for those entertaining thoughts of running in Del Mar's biggest races this summer. It is either the great equalizer, or the great equivocator. Think you have a chance, then take a chance.

There were 12 older horses in last month's Pacific Classic, 13 2-year-old fillies were scheduled to take part in Monday's Del Mar Debutante, and 13 2-year-olds - including the unbeaten Salute the Sarge and impressive Del Mar maiden winners Drill Down, E Z's Gentleman, and Kanan Dume - are entered in the Grade 1, $250,000 Del Mar Futurity, which highlights the closing-day card Wednesday.

The number of runners in the Futurity is in stark contrast to what had evolved here in recent years. From 1999 to 2006, there were four Futurity fields with five runners or fewer. This Futurity field is only the second in the last 16 years to have at least 10 runners. And if all 13 run, it will be the first time that many have run since 1967.

The bulky field gave trainers trepidation over posts because the rail has generally been seen as a detriment in sprints. Kanan Dume, who won his debut on opening day, July 18, landed the inside.

"I wish I wasn't there," Richard Mandella, who trains Kanan Dume, said at his barn Monday morning. "I wish I was outside."

He is. Mandella bookends the field, with Dixie Chatter in the outside post.

"I'm going to let them roll and then let them come together so they don't let anyone else by," Mandella said. "Maybe we'll use piano wire. We've got a plan."

Salute the Sarge is the most accomplished horse in the race, with three wins in as many starts, including the Best Pal Stakes here Aug.o12. But for the first time in his career, Salute the Sarge will not be ridden by Michael Baze, this meet's leading jockey, who also has been riding Drill Down and chose that colt instead. Kent Desormeaux, who is based in New York where there is no racing Wednesday, picked up the mount on Salute the Sarge.

"I've been tightening the screws," said Eric Guillot, who trains Salute the Sarge. "This is a big, thick colt. He looks like a 4-year-old."

Drill Down, third in his debut at Hollywood Park, was a sharp winner of his second lifetime start here July 28. The dark, attractive colt by El Corredor has trained smartly over the past month, according to his trainer, Mike Machowsky. He starts from post 4.

"Knock on wood, everything's perfect," Machowsky said. "I'm happy I didn't draw the one hole. Four is fine with me."

Machowsky has said that Drill Down is the second-best horse he has ever trained, behind Santa Anita Handicap winner Southern Image.

"Is he better than the other?" he said Monday. "Time will tell."

Drill Down has caught the eye of Mandella.

"Machowsky's colt is a nice colt. And he's a beautiful colt, too," Mandella said.

Both Kanan Dume and Dixie Chatter, who has not raced since defeating maidens at Hollywood Park on July 7, skipped the Best Pal to point for this race.

"Dixie Chatter had an ulcer in his throat we needed to clean up, and it took a couple of weeks," Mandella said. "I would have had to rush him to make the Best Pal. I thought it was best to train him up to the Futurity."

Leonides, who was nosed out by Salute the Sarge in the Hollywood Juvenile, also skipped the Best Pal. He was scratched the day of the race because he was ill, but he came back with a stamina-building, seven-furlong work Aug.o29.

E Z's Gentleman was well behind Drill Down in his debut when starting from the rail here on July 28, but improved sharply in his second lifetime start and beat maidens on Aug. 19. He starts from post 8.

"He's doing great," said his trainer, Ron McAnally. "He's a laid-back horse. Nothing seems to bother him. I like where he's drawn. I just didn't want to be down inside. That's the kiss of death."

Aaron Gryder will ride E Z's Gentleman. John Velazquez had been named to ride the horse at entry time, but McAnally said Angel Cordero Jr., Velazquez's agent, called and said Velazquez would not be able to make it Wednesday because of concern over his ailing father, who is in Puerto Rico.

Overextended is winless in three starts, but was right behind Drill Down and E Z's Gentleman in their maiden wins here. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, also sends out Good Man Dan, who was a five-length maiden winner after finishing third to Kanan Dume.

Georgie Boy was second to Salute the Sarge in the Best Pal after winning the Graduation Stakes.