Updated on 09/15/2011 12:21PM

Young man takes on Futural


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Those who achieve their greatest success before the age of 30 can be forgiven if life seems to drag thereafter. Still, there is something to be said for setting a high standard right off the bat. It tends to focus the attention. When Craig Dollase won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Sprint with Reraise, he was one month shy of his 28th birthday. He had been training on his own for less than a year.

Dollase could have turned out to be a one-hit wonder, a training version of The Archies, or the Florida Marlins. But as backers of such stakes winners as Road to Slew, Abby Girl, and Rare Charmer can attest, Dollase has continued to produce. Now he finds himself in the thick of the local handicap division with the 5-year-old gelding Futural, who will be going for his fourth straight stakes win on Sunday at Hollywood Park in the $500,000 Californian.

Dollase's journey with Futural dates back to the golden days of Reraise. In October of 1998, while Reraise was training for the Breeders' Cup, the 2-year-old Futural won a stakes at a mile on grass at Santa Anita. Dollase let himself think he might have a Derby colt on his hands. Then Futural got sick early in 1999, and everything started to go wrong. After five dreary starts that year, Futural was put up on blocks and given several months off to contemplate the error of his ways. To drive the point home, Dollase had him gelded. Obviously, it made an impression.

Futural returned to the races in early 2000 and won twice, as if he wanted to be something special. But once again, he regressed. Since Dollase had nothing left to geld, he looked elsewhere. "He had a chip in his ankle," the trainer said. "It was a pretty good-sized one, and it didn't show up until a race or two went by. Apparently it had been lingering there for quite awhile."

At that point, the patience of owners, Jess Miller and Jack Weitz, was being tested. Futural was spending more time in recovery than in constructive training and racing. Fortunately, Miller and Weitz are veterans of the game. When Dollase sent Futural to the farm - and a rigorous program on the treadmill - of Farrell Jones in San Jacinto, the trainer had every reason to expect that Futural could come back at a stakes class level. It worked. After a couple of warm-up races, Futural is on a roll.

When he beat New Advantage in the Tokyo City Handicap, that was good. When he beat Irisheyesareflying in the San Bernardino Handicap, that was better. And when Futural beat Skimming in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood on May 5, it was the best race of his life.

Dollase is not kidding himself. He knows that Futural is making hay in races that have not included Tiznow, Captain Steve, or Wooden Phone. And Skimming, winner of the 2000 Pacific Classic, was making his first start in nearly seven months in the LeRoy.

"I won't be surprised to see Skimming fire big again," Dollase said. "It will be a real horse race. But just being able to take a shot at these races with Futural is great. He's starting to show up like I thought he would from the start.

"He's a lot more professional now than when he was younger," the trainer noted. "Castration had to help that. He really used to goof off a lot. Still, he always plays possum out there. He does just enough to get done what he needs to get done."

When it comes to racehorses, there can be a fine line between a laid-back professional and a lazy slug. Futural, as good as he is, chooses to ration his energy like a cagey running back between plays. His body language exudes cool, as Chris McCarron noted before a workout last week.

"As he was walking to the track, he stopped and took a big sigh," said Dollase, referring to the horse, not the rider. "Chris said, 'This is the sign of a good horse.' I figured he knew what he was talking about. He's been on a few good horses."

Five of them have won the Californian for McCarron, including Precisionist, Old Trieste, and Cutlass Reality. The veteran Hall of Famer provides an edge for which Dollase is grateful.

Anyone who has faced the tension of a Breeders' Cup at the start of their career can certainly handle a half-million dollar race like the Californian.

With Futural on a consistent beat, Dollase has no reason to fret about his horse. Besides, the trainer will be under an even more severe form of scrutiny on Sunday. Among those in attendance will be Audrey Cathleen Dollase, who was born on May 8 to Craig and his wife, Nancy, their first child. "It will be her debut at the races," said the proud father.

Now that's pressure.