12/21/2014 11:58AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Los Alamitos Futurity

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Benoit & Associates
Dortmund wins the Los Alamitos Futurity on Saturday at Los Alamitos Race Course.

Grade 1, $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity, 1 1/16 miles, Los Alamitos, Dec. 20, 2014
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Dortmund
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Martin Garcia
Owner: Kaleem Shah, Inc.
Beyer Speed Figure: 91

The Los Alamitos Futurity was the final scoring race of the year for 2-year-olds, and in terms of drama, the best was saved for last. DORTMUND out-finished FIRING LINE and MR. Z following a dramatic stretch duel in which the three runners were alongside one another for the final three-sixteenths of a mile. It was great theater.

Dortmund, widest of all, got up in the shadow of the wire to prevail by a head, with Firing Line a nose in front of Mr. Z. It was a long way back to the other two runners, BENCH WARRANT and NO PROBLEM.

Dortmund had an ideal trip, settling into third as the field went into the first turn while Mr. Z and Firing Line battled through fractions of 21.98 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 45.29 for a half-mile, and 1:09.64 for six furlongs.

Dortmund did get a bit rank heading into the backstretch and was forced to race quite wide down the backstretch and into the far turn because Mr. Z was well off the rail. Dortmund loomed menacingly on the final turn, but it took him every step of the elongated stretch at Los Alamitos to get up, with jockey Martin Garcia choosing to focus on winning the race rather than the California Horse Racing Board’s rules on whipping. Garcia never relented in the final sixteenth of a mile, and Dortmund responded.

Dortmund’s final time of 1:40.86 for 1 1/16 miles was a track record, but since this is the first year of two-turn Thoroughbred racing at Los Alamitos and since that distance has been run just a few times, that is not germane to the conversation. Dortmund’s time compared quite favorably with the time of 1:42.23 by Baccelo when winning a second-level allowance for older horses three races earlier on the card.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

Baccelo received a Beyer Speed Figure of 88 for that effort. Dortmund got a 91. According to Andrew Beyer, who makes his eponymous Beyer Speed Figures for Southern California, the Los Alamitos track “definitely got faster late,” so Beyer applied a different variant to the allowance race and the Futurity. Otherwise, Dortmund’s fig would have been much faster, or Baccelo’s would have been much slower.

For those who had been dazzled by the runaway performances of Dortmund in his first two starts, this may have been a disappointment. One school of thought might be that since this was his first start around two turns and his first time in a stakes race, he was exposed as not being as good as his first two races made him appear. Another school of thought could be that he has come a long way in the seven weeks since his debut and that he may not have been at his absolute best coming back just 21 days after a trip to and from Churchill Downs for an allowance win.

I’m in the latter camp. I believe Dortmund is among the best in the division and that had he come into the Los Alamitos Futurity with more rest and off a local prep, he would have performed better. In addition, he is a big colt who only figures to improve with age. We’ll find out more next time, but I’m buying, not selling.

As for Firing Line, who was second, he ran a tremendous race and just missed in his first try around two turns and in a stakes race. In addition, he was quite agitated in the saddling paddock – he kicked the back wall of his saddling stall three times – and even acted immaturely in the paddock when Rafael Bejarano first got on him. If he can save more of that energy for his races, look out. He also was compromised by Mr. Z, who was lugging out the final six furlongs of the race and repeatedly bumped Firing Line.

Mr. Z, who was third, was right there despite not wanting to run straight. A head-on view of the backstretch run shows how well off the rail he was, with jockey Mike Smith tugging on his left rein to try to control him. Smith said after the race his left arm ached from the effort and that if he had let Mr. Z drift, he would have interfered with the horses next to him.

Still, Mr. Z ran a courageous race and has done well shipping all over the country. It will be interesting to see if his antics in this race were a one-time issue or a preview of coming attractions.

Bench Warrant, who was fourth, trailed much of the race and only passed the exhausted No Problem in the final furlong. He never was a factor.

No Problem, who was fifth and last, hugged the rail throughout and actually got within hailing distance of the top three nearing the top of the stretch, but he fell apart in the final furlong and likely needs a return to sprints and softer competition.