12/18/2014 12:38PM

Hovdey: Dortmund outperforming his namesake

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Dortmund wins his maiden in a 6 1/2-furlong race on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

I would think twice about betting heavily on Dortmund this Saturday. A lofty reputation is not always money in the bank. The opposition is solid, and even though there is much in Dortmund’s favor, they’ve still got to play hard all 90 minutes if they are going to handle the underrated Werder squad from Bremen.

Hold on a tick. I think I just crossed a German soccer schedule with a Los Alamitos overnight. Let’s see … Dec. 20 … Dortmund, sucking around the bottom of the Bundesliga table, plays an away game against Werder, whose record is even worse, while on the other side of the globe there is the young wonderhorse Dortmund, a son of Big Brown, ready to make his stakes debut on the same afternoon in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity, formerly the CashCall Futurity, formerly the Hollywood Futurity.

You can blame the mix-up on Kaleem Shah, who owns Dortmund and also has a penchant for naming his horses after European soccer teams. Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern should ring a bell, with his handle inspired by the perennial Munich powerhouse that has yet to be defeated in 16 matches during the current season. Dortmund has just four wins in 16 matches. Ouch.

Four-legged Dortmund, on the other hand, has run twice and won twice, most recently in optional-claiming company at Churchill Downs in a performance that was impressive from all the right angles. The figure folks swooned over his 97 Beyer Speed Figure, and the winning margin of 7 3/4 lengths going a one-turn mile seemed every bit as easy as it looked.

:: LOS ALAMITOS FUTURITY: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live

Ordinarily, a jump from a non-winners other than to a Grade 1 futurity should give a horseplayer pause. But with only five in the field on Saturday, it would seem that Dortmund could spot the opposition a few yards at the start and still walk his beat. Shah will concede it looks good on paper, but that’s as far as he’s willing to go.

“I’m certainly excited, but I need to contain my enthusiasm,” Shah said from his East Coast home. “As you know, racing is a very humbling sport. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that everything has to go right, and only one little thing has to go wrong.”

A lot went right for Shah in 2014, his best year yet as an owner. He ranks third in the nation with $5.6 million in purses from 75 starts, trailing only Ken and Sarah Ramsey (with more than 600 starts) and the Midwest Thoroughbreds juggernaut with nearly 1,000 starts.

Of the Shah total, $4.3 million was collected by Bayern, winner of the Haskell Invitational and Pennsylvania Derby in addition to the BC Classic. Naturally, Shah thinks his colt has earned the title of division champion and Horse of the Year, based largely on beating Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome in two of their three encounters. But, as Shah notes, ”I don’t have a vote.”

He does, however, have all the votes when it comes to Bayern staying in training as a 4-year-old, with the $10 million Dubai World Cup as his immediate 2015 goal.

“There was no temptation to retire him at all,” Shah said. “I certainly understand his value. But I’m a racing fan first, and racing fans have seen too many horses retired prematurely. It takes away from the lure of the game. There’s nothing I like to do more on weekends than watch videos of my horses winning stakes. So as long as Bayern is healthy, he’ll keep racing, even if it means he’s running when he is 6 years old.”

Bayern missed a key period of training earlier this year and was not able to make the Kentucky Derby (he won the Derby Trial instead, but was disqualified for interference). Dortmund made his debut on Nov. 2, the day after Bayern’s BC Classic win at Santa Anita, while Bayern did not make his racing debut until he turned 3.

Shah is the founder and president of the telecommunications and information technology company CALNET. He acquired Dortmund out of the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale in May at Timonium for $140,000.

“The credit for his selection goes to Donato Lanni of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms and Bob Baffert,” Shah said. “The sale is close to home for me, and I’ve been fairly lucky buying horses there. He’s a big, imposing colt, with real speed. Bob thought Big Brown had it in him to throw one brilliant horse like Big Brown himself.”

Dortmund comes by his size from not only Big Brown but also from the queen of his female line, third dam Lakeville Miss. The daughter of Rainy Lake was a statuesque champion 2-year-old filly of 1977 who went on to win the 1978 Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/2 miles. She also produced the major stakes winner Mogambo.

Shah will not be in attendance at Los Alamitos for Dortmund’s run in the Futurity. He is flying out Sunday from the East Coast to his native India to visit his ailing father, Majeed Shah. The elder Shah was legendary trainer of Thoroughbreds and two-time winner of India’s Triple Crown.

“I’ll be watching Saturday on TV, of course, and very anxious to see Dortmund takes this next step,” Shah said. “I am excited, yes, but what I’m hoping is that I’m still excited about him next April.”