Eleven years ago, Bob Baffert sent out Real Quiet to win the Hollywood Futurity and that colt went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Visions of those sugarplums danced in Baffert's head as he watched his newest potential star, Pioneerof the Nile, take the same first step on Saturday.
Now called the Cash Call Futurity and worth $750,000 in purse money, the Futurity is the last big race of the year for juveniles and proved a breakthrough for Pioneerof the Nile. The Empire Maker colt won in his second try at Saratoga this summer, then finished third in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and a close fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile up the road at Santa Anita.
Saturday, Garrett Gomez kept Pioneerof the Nile just back of the early speed, then came to the lead with a furlong to run and dug deep to hold off I Want Revenge by a nose. Chocolate Candy finished third.
"When he saw that other horse (I Want Revenge) coming on the inside, he really dug in. If we had gone around again I don't think the other horse was going to go by him." Gomez said.
While Gomez was looking in the rear-view mirror at the competition, Baffert was only looking ahead.
"To me, the Derby starts with this race," said Baffert, who now has saddled four Futurity winners and three Kentucky Derby victors. "You can start thinking about it and getting excited about it."
And, he said, he sees parallels between Pioneerof the Nile and Real Quiet.
Of all his Fururity winners, he said, "Of all of them he probably reminds me a little bit of Real Quiet. He's a nice horse, he's improving and he's well-bred."
In other weekend races for colts and geldings soon to turn 3:
-- Merus Miami rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields by 1 length over Adriatic Moon. Cut the Check was third as the betting favorite. Merus Miami, a Kentuucky-bred colt by Friends Lake, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.48. Alex Bisono had the mount.
-- Ask Joe rallied down the middle of the track to win Saturday's $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds by a head over Big Push. Valid Stripes led turning for home but couldn't hang on and finished third. Ask Joe, a Kentucky-bred Najran colt, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.53 with Miguel Mena riding for trainer Steve Klesaris.
Fillies about to turn 3:
-- Leigh McLovin shot right to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds and extended the advantage to a 4-lengths margin at the wire. A Day for Dancing waltzed home second, 1/2 length ahead of Hug It Out. Leigh McLovin, a Florida-bred daughter of Flame Thrower, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.47. Robby Albarado had the mount for trainer Ronny Werner.
-- Step Out Smartly stepped out a little slowly in Saturday's $50,000 Gowell Stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky. But the Came Home filly came home well, circling five-wide on the turn and closing with a rush to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Lady's Laughter. The favorite, Emma Darling, settled for third after stumbling out of the gate. Step Out Smartly, under William Troilo, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.7.
-- Queen of Song rallied from last of just four starters to win Saturday's $50,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship for state-breds by 5 lengths over Call of a Lion. Graceful Ginger and the favorite, Prom Time, completed the order of finish. Queen of Song, a daughter of Unbridled's Song, finished "about" 1 1/16 miles on a muddy sealed track in 1:47.44 with Jeremy Rose in the irons.
-- You Rock rolled off to a 7-lengths victory in Saturday's $50,000 Eleanor M. Casey Memorial Stakes at Charles Town. Beboppin Baby and Beware of the Bop completed a rock 'n' roll themed trifecta. You Rock, a Maryland-bred daughter of Rock Slide, ran 7 furlongs in 1:28.24 for jockey Mathew McGowan.
In other weekend racing:
Vacare saved ground into the stretch run in Sunday's $150,000 Dahlia Handicap for fillies and mares, then came out for running room and was up in time to win by 1 length over Gotta Have Her. In My Glory finished third. Vacare, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Lear Fan, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.13. Jose Valdivia Jr. rode for trainer Christophe Clement. It was the final career start for Vacare, who finishes with eight wins in 14 starts, and the 1,000th career win for Clement. Vacare was fifth, beaten just 2 lenghts, in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf in her last previous start.
Bai and Bai stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Cat's Cradle Handicap for California-bred fillies and mares, then won a three-horse sprint to the wire, scoring by a head over Spenditallbaby. Gambler's Justice was another head back in third. Bai and Bai, a 5-year-old Falstaff mare, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:27.85 with Aaron Gryder up.
Askmetodance pressed the early pace in Saturday's $125,000 La Coneja Handicap for 3-year-old fillies bred in New Mexico, got the advantage turning for home and was under a drive to hold off Inexcessive Choke and win by 3/4 length. Etoile de Dome finished third. Askmetodance, a daughter of Ghostly Moves, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.58 under Joe Martinez.
Jimmy Simms was up in the final furlong to win Saturday's $60,000 Woodchopper Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 1/4 lengths over Evade. Acting Zippy ran evenly to finish third. Jimmy Simms, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, got the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.21. The colt is a Kentucky-bred son of Lost Soldier.
Secret Gypsy pressed the pace three-wide through the first stages of Saturday's $60,000 Esplanade Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the front and drew off, winning by 4 lengths over Kalookan Dancer. Precious Kiss was third. Secret Gypsy, a 3-year-old daughter of Sea of Secrets from the Rahy mare Miss Utada, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.22 under Robby Albarado.
Storm Treasure caught pace-setting favorite Chamberlain Bridge in the late going to win Saturday's $60,000 Bonapaw Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths. John's Road was third. Storm Treasure, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Storm Boot, got the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm grass in 1:04.24. Shaun Bridgmohan rode for trainer Steve Asmussen.
White Spar led most of the way in Saturday's $50,000 Cactus Wren Handicap for Arizona-breds, turned back a challenge from El Mirage at the top of the stretch and went on to beat that one by 1 1/2 lengths. It was another 20 1/4 lengths back to Corporal Tillman. White Spar, a 3-year-old son of Benton Creek, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:14.99 with Daniel Vergara riding.