12/07/2017 3:40PM

Hovdey: Honor by naming can cut both ways

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They will run the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity and the Starlet Stakes on Saturday, although participation apparently was neither encouraged nor required. Only five 2-year-olds could be mustered for each of the Grade 1 events, from an estimated 2015 U.S. foal crop of 20,850.

Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss the 2017 renewals of the 1 1/16-mile events before all the votes are counted. Since Los Alamitos embraced the Futurity and Starlet in 2014, the 1-2-3 finishers have included Abel Tasman, Take Charge Brandi, American Gal, Dortmund, Mor Spirit, Irap, Mastery, and Firing Line. Not bad.

This year’s Futurity includes the sentimental favorite McKinzie, a son of Street Sense who posted a big number in a maiden win at Santa Anita. If that was not enough, he is named for the late, widely respected racing executive Brad McKinzie, who guided Los Alamitos into its current Thoroughbred profile as right-hand man to track owner Ed Allred.

McKinzie was a close friend of the colt’s owners, Mike Pegram, Paul Weitman, and Karl Watson. Pegram knew he was courting chance by attaching McKinzie’s name to a racehorse, but trainer Bob Baffert was high enough on the youngster to justify a roll of the dice.

“I know what Brad would say,” Pegram said. “He’d say, ‘You don’t want to do that to a nice horse. That’s too big of a load to carry.’ But Bob said the colt could run all day, and if anything Brad was not built for speed. He was a stayer.”

A special name is no guarantee of success, although the exceptions make for interesting history. John Nerud named 1968 Horse of the Year Dr. Fager after Dr. Charles Fager, the neurosurgeon who saved Nerud’s life after a fall from his pony. Khalid Abdullah was anxious to name a horse in honor of Bobby Frankel, his favorite American trainer, who died in November 2009. A few months later, Abdullah’s 2-year-old son of Galileo was christened Frankel and went on to a storybook-perfect, 14-race career.

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Pegram has named horses for good friends more than once, sometimes with happy endings. Midnight Lute, a two-time Breeders’ Cup winner and champion, came from Lute Olson, coach of the 1997 national NCAA championship University of Arizona basketball team. Captain Steve, winner of the Dubai World Cup, was in tribute to Capt. Steve Thompson, a member of the Louisville law-enforcement community.

Then there was Mayor Marv, a son of Distorted Humor named for Marvin Teixeira, the mayor of Carson City, Nev., where Pegram has interests in casinos and hotels.

Teixeira died in 2014, but not before Mayor Marv was able to win the 2009 Turf Paradise Derby.

“At one point, I told the mayor we had to geld him,” Pegram recalled. “‘What does that mean?’ he asked.”

The procedure was explained. The mayor, facing re-election at the time, could imagine the headlines. His reaction, according to Pegram:

“Why didn’t you just shoot the sonofabitch?”

Pegram’s three previous Futurity winners have gone on to great things. Besides Captain Steve there was Real Quiet, who came within a nose of capturing the Triple Crown, and Lookin At Lucky, Preakness winner and Eclipse champ.

“Lookin At Lucky? That’s me,” Pegram said. “The story of my life.”

And Real Quiet?

“Named him for Baffert,” Pegram replied. “Who else?”

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Nothing makes a pursuit like horse racing seem more trivial than its presentation in the shadow of a terrifying natural disaster. While Los Alamitos Race Course offers its fine afternoon of sport Saturday afternoon, the skies to the north will be thick with the evidence of the ongoing fires of Los Angeles and adjacent counties. Horses have died in the fires already, one person perished, and firefighters have been injured. More than 200,000 residents have been evacuated. Santa Anita Park has opened its doors to equine refugees. As this is written Thursday, control is not in sight. Welcome to our nightmare.

If the Thoroughbred is considered one of nature’s finest creations, then the wildfire exists at the other end of the scale. Joe Harper, the man who runs Del Mar, still can summon the horrors of 40 years ago when his family’s Middle Ranch – purchased originally by Harper’s grandfather, Cecile B. deMille – was caught at the center of a conflagration that burned 3,800 acres on the claustrophobic hillsides of Little Tujunga Canyon, just north of Los Angeles. They called it the Middle Fire.

“The house my wife and I lived in at the time was up against a hill,” Harper said. “It was saved when a helicopter dumped a load of water. But standing out in the middle of the pasture, surrounded by flames, I thought we were all goners.”

Los Angeles is one of the few major metropolitan areas that integrates dense centers of population with vast expanses of wilderness. But as civilization continues to encroach upon open, hilly spaces, homes and businesses are now exposed in areas that once could burn without serious loss.

Harper’s family sold Middle Ranch years ago. More recently, it was an equestrian center and part of ongoing canyon development. This week, the Creek Fire killed 30 horses in the area, and reports indicated structures on former Middle Ranch property were casualties as well.

“From what I heard, I’d be surprised if there was much left,” Harper said. “At least they got the horses out.”