12/16/2004 12:00AM

Shooting for Futurity moon


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There are a lot of unwritten rules around the racetrack. Folding money goes in the front pocket. Steer clear of ushers named Mugsy. And it if someone slips you an unmarked bottle of something guaranteed to move Old Sparky up five lengths, try it on the barn goat first. Or a jock's agent.

When it comes to stepping up in class and taking on the best, the guidelines are simple. If there is only one horse to beat, go for it. Something can always happen. But if the heavy guns run two or three deep, then maybe it's a good idea to take a pass, unless you really need that free meal in the Director's Room.

The Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity on Saturday is a very deep three-deep, as in Mariana Trench deep. Declan's Moon, Wilko, and Proud Accolade give the race a national importance not usually seen around these parts, at least at this time of year.

The chances that all three will fail to fire is unlikely, although all three have something to prove. Was Wilko's victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star a fluke? How will the Champagne Stakes winner, Proud Accolade, handle the addition of blinkers after his dull effort behind Wilko in Texas? And can the unbeaten Declan's Moon make the transition from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles with his usual aplomb?

The Hollywood Futurity has been a fairly formful race. Winners like Roving Boy, Snow Chief, King Glorious, Grand Canyon, Best Pal, A.P. Indy, Afternoon Deelites, Point Given, and Lion Heart were pretty much foregone conclusions, while Fali Time, Toccet, Captain Steve, and Siphonic were hardly earthshaking surprises.

Still, there have been stunners. And the man responsible for two of them will be going for another one Saturday. Ron McAnally will be sending out Lucky Bid for Eric and Ilona Whetstone, new owners to the game who paid $50,000 for Lucky Bid, a son of Maria's Mon, at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale.

McAnally, a member of the Hall of Fame since 1990, rarely kids himself. True to form, he is approaching the Futurity like a man about to put his hand into a bag full of badgers.

"I've told the owners how tough it looks," McAnally said Thursday morning from his Santa Anita stable. "The Eclipse Award winner will probably come out of this race. Our colt has won only one race, although he did get beat just a nose in a little stakes here at Santa Anita [the Pinjara, on the grass]. So don't get me wrong. He's a nice horse. I'm just not sure he's up to this caliber - at least not yet."

Well, thank you. A cold-water shower first thing in the morning is always refreshing. But hang on. Isn't this the same Ron McAnally who won the 1993 Hollywood Futurity with Valiant Nature at 16-1? The same Ron McAnally who roared back two years later to win the 1995 version of the Futurity with Matty G, this time at 35-1?

He confessed. It was, but with an explanation.

"At the time Valiant Nature won the race, he was training really, really good," the trainer said. "I felt he had a chance."

This was despite the fact that Brocco topped the Futurity field, fresh from his five-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park. Valiant Nature - a son of His Majesty - had run just twice and won only once, in a maiden race on the grass.

But Brocco stuttered at the start and was pinched midway through the race, while Valiant Nature had clear sailing on the lead. With Laffit Pincay supplying the finishing power, Valiant Nature held on to win by three-quarters of a length.

In 1995, the hot horse for the Futurity was Hennessy, winner of the Sapling, the Hopeful, and the Hollywood Juvenile, and beaten just a neck by Unbridled's Song in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park. Hennessy was 3-10 in a Hollywood Futurity that also included such promising talents as Odyle and Ayrton S.

Matty G was bred and owned by longtime McAnally client Jack Goodwin and named for Goodwin's grandson. A son of Capote, he was dazzling in a maiden win but disappointing in two stakes appearances.

"Not only was Matty G upwards of 30-1, we had supplemented him for $25,000," McAnally recalled. "And Jack didn't have that kind of money."

Once again, though, the ever-changing nature of young Thoroughbreds was a factor. Matty G worked a superb mile under Alex Solis one week before the Futurity, leading McAnally to wonder if the colt was about to bloom. He laid out the pros and cons for Goodwin, and Jack wrote the check.

"He won by six lengths, and Hennessy was out of the money," McAnally said, although he was wrong on one detail. Matty G won by seven.

"Max Gluck used to say, 'We can't win if we don't run,' " McAnally added, summoning the name of the man who made Elmendorf Farm one of the top stables of the 1970's and 1980's. "I remember I didn't really want to run his mare Miss Magnetic in the San Gorgonio at Santa Anita one winter. The track was real muddy. But Max said, 'Let's run.' She won by 10."

The point was clear. Sometimes, if the horse is right, it pays to take a shot. One minor correction, though. Miss Magnetic won by 15.