07/19/2010 5:27PM

Start with Baffert to find Del Mar Futurity winner

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
As always, trainer Bob Baffert has a solid bench of 2-year-olds for Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – For all of Bob Baffert’s accomplishments, and there have been many, nothing quite defines his essence as a trainer more than his remarkable record with 2-year-olds at Del Mar, where he has won the Del Mar Futurity nine times in the past 14 years, including the past two years with subsequent Eclipse Award winners Lookin At Lucky and Midshipman.

As with Lookin At Lucky, sometimes Baffert arrives at Del Mar with a top prospect who was first turned loose toward the end of the Hollywood Park meeting. But he also saves plenty of ammunition for here, where Midshipman made his debut.

At the Hollywood Park meeting that finished Sunday, Baffert won with seven 2-year-olds who were making their debuts, including the highly regarded Smart Strike colt Smash, who ran to notices on closing day. But Baffert’s bench is deep. When the Bernardini filly A Z Warrior won her debut last Thursday at Hollywood Park, Baffert took it as omen.

“I’m glad that she won, because I’ve got a lot of nice ones I think are as good as her,” he said. “If she had run horrible, I’d have been screwed. She’s pretty special.”

A Z Warrior is likely to come back Aug. 6 in the Grade 3, $150,000 Sorrento Stakes, a prep for the Grade 1, $250,000 Darley Debutante on Sept. 4. Smash will likely use the Grade 2, $150,000 Best Pal Stakes to move on to the Grade 1, $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Sept. 8.

Rock So Hard, a Rock Hard Ten colt who has worked with Smash, is expected to debut for Baffert and the Summit Racing syndicate on Saturday in the first scheduled straight maiden race of the meet.

John Sadler, the leading trainer at Del Mar last summer, said “we’ll be off to a little bit of a slow start” with his 2-year-olds this season, but cited a pair of offspring by Candy Ride, the filly Candid Ride and the colt Cook Inlet, as ones to watch. Sadler also trains Landaluce Stakes winner Dawnie Macho, who will come back in the Sorrento.

“I think she’ll run better than in the Landaluce,” Sadler said. “She missed a little bit of training time after we bought her privately in Chicago.”

Jerry Hollendorfer has brought a number of promising 2-year-olds to Del Mar this year, including Western Move, who was a sharp second to the David Hofmans-trained J P’s Gusto in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 5. Dan Ward, Hollendorfer’s top local assistant, said he has high hopes for Indian Gracey, who finished second to A Z Warrior last week, along with the Aragorn filly Anniversary Girl and the Indian Charlie colt Indian Winter, both of whom should debut the first half of the meet at Del Mar.

Jeff Bonde, usually based in Northern California, also has a deep crop of 2-year-olds for this summer, led by Sway Away, an Afleet Alex colt who ran five furlongs in a swift 56.35 seconds when winning his debut at Pleasanton on June 27. Sway Away will be pointed to the Best Pal.

“He’s slightly swayback,” Bonde said. “That’s how he got his name. But he does everything easy.”

Bonde also cited the colts Purgestein, Road Ready, and Twice the Appeal, and the filly Smoke Over Water as his other top prospects for this meet.

“We’ve got 25 stalls and we’ll try to use them all,” he said.

Carla Gaines has several 2-year-olds who have trained well in recent weeks, most notably the colt Runflatout, who “has been training sensationally at Santa Anita,” according to Jeff Bloom, the vice president of West Coast operations for the West Point Thoroughbreds ownership syndicate. West Point has another one to watch, the gelding Valuation, whom trainer Craig Dollase should debut “fairly early in the meet,” according to Bloom.

The best 2-year-old in trainer Doug O’Neill’s barn could be the colt Just Imagine, a son of Unbridled’s Song.

Trainer Mike Machowsky has two fillies who have shown quality in their drills, Free From Sin, a daughter of Bernstein, and Born Lucky, by Flower Alley. Free From Sin could run in a maiden race scheduled for Sunday.

“She’s trained like she’s fast,” he said.

Born Lucky probably will not run until midway through the meet.

“I think she’s really nice,” Machowsky said.

Machowsky’s mentor, Richard Mandella, likes the More Than Ready filly Avid.

“She trains pretty sharp,” Mandella said.

Mandella’s best colt could be Robie the Cat, who was second, despite racing greenly, to the Baffert-trained D’pendable when both made their debuts in a turf sprint July 4.

Kathy Walsh sent out the filly Georgie’s Sweetie to a maiden win at Hollywood Park, but she came down with a minor injury that will keep her out of the California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Stakes on Friday. She is a full sister to Georgie Boy, who won the Del Mar Futurity in 2007.