12/13/2013 11:37AM

Jay Hovdey: Pegram would like to go back to future


The people behind the leading contenders in the large field of 2-year-olds suiting up for Saturday’s $750,000 CashCall Futurity have at least one thing going for them. There is no Mike Pegram colt in the mix.

With three winners in the 32 runnings of what used to be called the Hollywood Futurity, Pegram is the most successful owner in the history of the mile and one-sixteenth main track event. John and Betty Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm and W.T. Young’s Overbrook Farm each won the Futurity twice.

Pegram won it in 1997 with Real Quiet, in 1999 with Captain Steve, and then in 2009 with Lookin At Lucky, a colt he raced in partnership with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

“That was my first major Grade 1 with Real Quiet,” Pegram said. “It’s funny, though, everybody thought my other colt, Johnbill, was the one. He was definitely the buzz horse. The entry went off as the heavy favorite, then Real Quiet came up and surprised us all. I remember sitting there wondering what happened to Johnbill. We found out he just wasn’t as good as the other one.”

As it turned out, not many from that generation were in Real Quiet’s class, despite the fact that he needed seven starts before he could win a maiden race. Even after taking the Hollywood Futurity he began his 3-year-old season with three losses. But then he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and came within Victory Gallop’s nose of a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

All three of Pegram’s Futurity winners were thoroughly tested as 2-year-olds. Real Quiet made nine starts, Captain Steve made eight, and even though Lookin At Lucky made only six starts during 2009, half a dozen races is positively medieval by current standards.

“I know the fad is to run a 2-year-old less,” Pegram said. “But as someone who’s watched the sport for a long time, I know the real good ones are not only fast, they’re durable.”

All of Pegram’s Futurity winners went on to make noise. In addition to the Derby and the Preakness, Real Quiet came back at 4 to win the Pimlico Special and the Hollywood Gold Cup. Captain Steve won the Iowa Derby and the Swaps at Hollywood at 3, then blossomed at 4 to take the Donn Handicap and the Dubai World Cup. In 2010 Lookin At Lucky won the Rebel, the Preakness, the Haskell, and became the first colt in 30 years to be a champion at ages 2 and 3.

Even without a CashCall Futurity starter, Pegram will be in town this week for a meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, of which he serves as president. Compared to what his organization is facing, winning the Futurity is a walk in the park. The elephant in the room is the closure of Hollywood Park, and with it the traumatic ripples in racing dates, stabling, and the challenge to maintain Southern California as a major racing circuit.

“When Churchill Downs sold Hollywood Park to the current owners in 2005, the writing was on the wall,” Pegram said, referring to the stated property development intentions the Bay Meadows Land Co. and its parent, Stockbridge Investments. “I think it will go down as one of the major blunders that we did not plan better than we did.”

Back then, in anticipation of a Hollywood Park closure, Pegram was part of a group ready to convert Los Alamitos Race Course in Orange County from a Quarter Horse track to a full-scale Thoroughbred venue, complete with turf course. Pegram and Dr. Ed Allred, principal owner of Los Alamitos, received little encouragement from the rest of the industry, and the proposal was dropped.

Now, Los Alamitos is being tapped as part of the post-Hollywood solution, offering year-round stabling and a new one-mile main track in return for five weeks of racing dates. However, the track no longer owns the piece of property that would have accommodated a grass course. (Pegram said he divested his Los Alamitos ownership interest when he was elected to lead the TOC.)

“So we didn’t get all we wanted,” Pegram said, the “we” being the owners he represents. “And in some ways we’re right back where we were 10 years ago. The only reason we’re still going to be racing anywhere in the L.A. area is because Ed Allred and Frank Stronach at Santa Anita still have passion for the sport. And they won’t be around forever.”

Allred is 77, Stronach, 81.

“For all our problems in California, we’re still showing some growth, and we’re doing it without casino money,” Pegram said. “What we’re not showing is vision.”

True enough, unless your definition of “vision” is drawing up a racing calendar only through 2014 and 2015 and haggling right up to the bitter end over where the money earmarked for vanning and stabling would be spent once the Hollywood Park barn area closes on Jan. 31, 2014. At least one thing Pegram knows for sure is that there will be a race equivalent to the CashCall Futurity this time next year at Los Alamitos, and he hopes to be there with one of his coming 2-year-olds.

“I don’t know which one it will be,” he said. “But he better be a good one, ’cause that’s what it takes to win it.”