12/20/2015 12:25PM

Road to the Derby: Los Alamitos Futurity


Grade 1, $350,500 Los Alamitos Futurity, 1 1/16 miles, Los Alamitos, Dec. 19, 2015

 (10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

 Winner: Mor Spirit (sire: Eskendereya)

 Trainer: Bob Baffert

 Jockey: Gary Stevens

 Owner: Michael Lund Petersen

 Beyer Speed Figure: 88

 This was the final race for which 2-year-olds could earn points toward next year’s Kentucky Derby. The next scoring races will come after the New Year. Last year’s Los Alamitos Futurity turned out to be a key race, with Dortmund, Firing Line, and Mr. Z taking the first three spots. This year’s running did not look as promising on paper in terms of depth, but the victorious MOR SPIRIT certainly has the right credentials to develop into a top prospect, being by Eskendereya and – like Dortmund – trained by Bob Baffert.

 Mor Spirit was coming back just three weeks following a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which I wrote  that he might not have been at his best on an off track. He also was hustled away from the gate in that race. In the Los Alamitos Futurity, he was allowed to settle and make one run over a fast track. That seems to be his preference.

 Mor Spirit came away from the gate under his own power, then got a bit aggressive about 150 yards into the race, at which point jockey Gary Stevens took a hold of him. They wound up three paths wide, in the second flight of horses just behind the leaders, around the first turn. After allowing I’MALREADYTHERE to go around him entering the backstretch, Stevens tipped Mor Spirit to the four-path for a clear run on the far turn, and they were fanned about five paths wide into the lane. Mor Spirit drifted in a bit at midstretch, which required Stevens to switch to a left-handed whip, but Mor Spirit never stopped his relentless charge and reeled in stablemate TOEWS ON ICE.

 Toews On Ice, who was second, was making his first start around two turns. He broke well and ended up just outside of FRANK CONVERSATION through a solid pace of 23.09 seconds for the opening quarter and :47.12 for a half-mile. He volleyed with Frank Conversation around the far turn and into the lane, got the best on Frank Conversation leaving the furlong pole, but could not stave off Mor Spirit while swapping over to his left lead a sixteenth of a mile from the wire. Toews On Ice finished well clear of everyone else in the race, most notably Frank Conversation, his early pace rival, who wound up 7 1/4 lengths behind Toews On Ice. This is probably the outer limits of how far Toews On Ice wants to run, so I have doubts he’ll wind up being an elite Derby prospect, but there’s no denying his grit.

 I’malreadythere, who finished third, raced four paths wide around the first turn – just outside of Mor Spirit – steadily advanced to be lapped on Toews On Ice heading into the far turn, raced three paths wide on the far turn, could not go with the top two entering the lane, seemed intimidated between rivals in upper stretch and dropped back, but kept to his task and re-rallied to finish third, which might be more of an indictment of the horses he re-rallied to beat than it is a tribute to his tenacity.

 URLACHER, who finished fourth, used his rail draw to secure a good position just behind the two leaders into the first turn and down the backstretch. He stayed in that ideal spot around the far turn, was angled off the rail in upper stretch and had dead aim on the leaders, but went one-paced the rest of the way and lost third in the late stages.

 Frank Conversation, who faded to fifth, had good speed from the gate and led narrowly into the first turn, down the backstretch, and into the far turn. He battled with Toews On Ice until a furlong remained, at which point he began to readily yield.

 HOLLYWOOD DON, who was sixth, was difficult to saddle in the paddock before the race. That nervous energy carried over into the race, as he seemed uncomfortable racing behind and between horses -- in the second flight, just behind the leaders -- around the first turn and down the backstretch. He came under an aggressive ride with three furlongs to go, but had nothing to offer. He might be better on turf, but he seemed out of sorts on the day.

 SORRYABOUTNOTHING, who was last of seven, acted up in the gate before the start, had no early speed, cornered poorly around the first turn despite being well back of his rivals, remained wide despite being far back and in the clear and was never a factor.