Liaison, whose sire Indian Charlie was euthanized two days earlier, outlasted his rivals in a calvary charge to win the $750,000 CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Dec. 17 (VIDEO).
Trainer Bob Baffert captured his record sixth win in the lucrative event for 2-year-olds with Liaison. It was his third victory in the past four Futurity renewals, following Pioneerof the Nile in 2008 and Lookin At Lucky in 2009.
“We’ve had emotions all week about Indian Charlie,’’ said Baffert, who also trained the 1998 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner. “He was such a good horse and he didn’t get going as a sire until the very end."
Indian Charlie, at age 16, succumbed to cancer at Airdrie Stud in Kentucky Dec. 15.
Baffert noted that all of his previous Futurity (the race was known as the Hollywood Futurity prior to 2007) winners turned out to be top horses. His other winners were Point Given (2000), Captain Steve (1999), and Real Quiet (1997).
“Winning this race is very important. It’s the last chance to run at a big pot other than the Breeders’ Cup," he said. "This race is very pivotal for future stars. It’s where they start separating themselves. I’m glad I was on the front end of the separation.’’
With Rafael Bejarano aboard, 5-1 shot Liaison took the lead past mid-stretch and held off the strong- closing 13-1 chance Rousing Sermon by a neck. The maiden Brother Francis finished third after making a big threat in the lane, with the Baffert-trained Sky Kingdom fourth. The winning time was 1:42.86 on Cushion Track.
Baffert's third entrant in the Futurity, grade I winner Drill, dueled Handsome Mike on the pace and was ninth after fading in the stretch. Majestic City, the 3-1 favorite, was a close third as they made their way into the homestretch but weakened to 10th.
Liaison, a $290,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase owned by Arnold Zetcher, was coming off a victory in the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Nov. 12--defeating the same Rousing Sermon by a half-length. He has won three consecutive races since debuting with a third-place effort against maidens on Del Mar's Polytrack Sept. 3.
William A. Carl Estate bred the winner in Kentucky. The bay colt is out of the Victory Gallop mare Galloping Gal.
Drill broke on the lead for Martin Garcia before Handsome Mike pulled his way up along the inside to vie for the early advantage. Majestic City was poised in third on their outside. Handsome Mike and Drill led the 13-horse field through solid quarter-mile splits of :23.27, :46.83, and 1:11.11, with Drill taking a narrow edge into the homestretch. Handsome Mike was a head in front of Drill at the eighth pole with Majestic City still close in third.
Liaison, who stalked the pace while saving ground in fourth for Bejarano, loomed up on the leaders along with Brother Francis, ridden by Victor Espinoza, and those two quickly took over as the pacesetters tired. Liaison disposed of the challenge from Brother Francis, who was making his first start in a route. But the winner had to dig deep under strong urging approaching the wire as a determined Rousing Sermon, ridden by Joe Talamo, charged from 10th down the center of the track.
California-bred Rousing Sermon was cutting into the lead with each stride late but was unable to get on even terms with the winner in a game effort.
The runner-up finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Brother Francis, with the late-arriving Sky Kingdom another half-length farther behind in fourth. Then came Empire Way, Blingo, Handsome Mike, Cozzetti, Drill, Majestic City, Basmati, and Desormais. The maiden Groovin' Solo was pulled up on the backstretch with a broken right rein.
The fast-developing Liaison broke his maiden for Baffert in his second start. The seven-furlong test over dirt at Santa Anita Oct. 14 came a month before the Real Quiet win at the same 1 1/16-mile distance as the CashCall Futurity. His latest victory, worth $375,000, increased his career total to $469,560.
Bejarano said he is looking forward to more success with Liaison.
“He’s just going to improve off this race,’’ he said. “I’m really happy with this horse. (Baffert) has done an awesome job with him.
“He broke so well, but I knew there were a few speed horses in there, so I just put him right in behind them. I was just waiting and waiting and when I found the right opportunity, I swung him out in the stretch and he showed a big kick.’’
Under equal weights of 121 pounds, Liaison paid $12.20, $7.20, and $4.80 as the second choice in the bulky field.
Rousing Sermon, who could have given trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a sweep of Hollywood's grade I tests for 2-year-olds, returned $12.40 and $6.40. Hollendorfer won the Hollywood Starlet a week earlier with 14-1 shot Killer Graces. The Futurity exacta was worth $94.
Brother Francis, coming off a runner-up finish in the Hollywood Prevue (gr. III) at seven furlongs Nov. 24 for trainer James Cassidy, paid $8 to show. His jockey, Espinoza, lost his whip in the stretch drive.