Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has become such a force these days that sometimes he manages to win a Grade I race even when he loses.
For instance, in the Grade I, $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 19, Baffert sent out Arrogate, the 3-5 favorite. Arrogate lost. He finished second. But Baffert still won the race with 3-1 Collected.
Baffert was represented in last Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity by McKinzie, the 1-2 favorite. McKinzie lost. He finished second. But Baffert still won the race with 8-5 Solomini.
However, following a Stewards’ inquiry, Solomini was disqualified from first and placed third for causing interference.
It turned out that even though Solomini had his number taken down after finishing first, Baffert still won the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity. McKinzie was elevated to first by the Stewards in a 2-1 split decision. Tom Ward and Ron Church voted to disqualify Solomini, with Scott Cheney dissenting.
In the final furlong, McKinzie, Instilled Regard and Solomini were battling for the lead. McKinzie was on the inside, Instilled Regard in between, Solomini on the outside.
When watching the race live, before the horses reached the finish line, I thought there might well be a Stewards’ inquiry. It appeared to me there had been some contact made while McKinzie, Instilled Regard and Solomini were slugging it out in the last furlong. But when watching the pan shot live, I could not be sure who had done what, though I did think there was a possibility that McKinzie had come out to cause interference to Instilled Regard.
When taking a look at the head-on replay for the first time, what I immediately saw was Somomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard. That was clear to me. So, the next question was, did McKinzie drift out to also interfere with Instilled Regard? If so, a double DQ of both Solomini and McKinzie could possibly be justified.
But as I continued to watch the head-on replays, it appeared more and more to me that McKinzie was going straight at the time that Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard. If McKinzie did come out at all, it seemed to me that it was only after contact had been made with him by Instilled Regard as a result of a chain reaction instigated by Solomini when he had come in and bumped Instilled Regard.
Evidently, Steward Ward saw it much the same way I did. I later read in a BloodHorse story written by Jeremy Balan that Ward said: “When I saw it live, I thought McKinzie might have been as guilty as Solomini.” But Ward went on to say that “when you look at it in slow motion, we determined [McKinzie] didn’t come off his path until after the contact between Solomini and Instilled Regard.” I assume the “we” means Ward and Church.
Under California Horse Racing Board rules, after determining that Solomini had come in and bumped Instilled Regard, the next question to address was this: When Solomini bumped Instilled Regard, did it cost Instilled Regard the opportunity for a better placing?
According to CHRB rule #1699 (a): “A horse shall not interfere with any other horse. Interference is defined as bumping, impeding, forcing or floating in or out or otherwise causing any other horse to lose stride, ground, momentum or position.”
Rule #1699 (b) states: “A horse which interferes with another as defined in subsection (a) may be disqualified and placed behind the horse so interfered with if, in the opinion of the Stewards, the horse interfered with was not at fault and due to the interference lost the opportunity for a better placing.”
Now let’s examine what happened during the stretch drive of the Los Al Futurity in terms of whether or not a DQ was merited in accordance with CHRB #1699.
I feel I am on solid ground to state it is an undeniable fact that Solomini “came in and bumped” Instilled Regard, which then according to subsection (a), did constitute causing interference to Instilled Regard.
Now, if it has been established that Solomini did indeed interfere with Instilled Regard, the next question to address is, per subsection (b), whether or not, in the opinion of the Stewards, Instilled Regard “lost the opportunity for a better placing” as a consequence of being bumped and interfered with by Solomini.
After Instilled Regard was bumped and interfered with by Solomini, Instilled Regard went on to be beaten by only a head for second. Because Instilled Regard lost second by such a short margin, in my judgement it is reasonable to reach the conclusion that the requirements for Solomini to be disqualified were satisfied under subsection (b) because Instilled Regard “was not at fault” and “due to the interference” Instilled Regard “lost the opportunity for a better placing.”
I do hold the view that Instilled Regard did lose the “opportunity” for a better placing because of being bumped at such a late stage of the race before beaten by only a head for second.
Therefore, by virtue of what I believe to have occurred during the final furlong of the Los Alamitos Futurity in conjunction with CHRB rule #1699 (a) and (b), I concur with the majority decision of the Board of Stewards to disqualify Solomini and place him third, behind Instilled Regard.
NO DQ IN MANY OTHER COUNTRIES
If last Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity had been run in Japan, England or most countries other than the United States, Solomini almost certainly would not have been disqualified.
The difference in disqualification standards concerning interference between major international jurisdictions and North American racing was addressed on Dec. 6 at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program’s Global Symposium on Racing in Tucson, Ariz.
As pointed out in a story by Balan about the symposium’s panel discussion on this subject, the U.S. is a Category 2 country. As such, a disqualification in the U.S. generally takes place if, in the opinion of the Stewards, a fouled horse is either cost a placing or is cost the opportunity at a better placing. In a Category 1 country, such as Japan or England, a disqualification takes place only if, in the opinion of the Stewards, the infraction cost the fouled horse a chance to defeat the horse to have committed the foul. The fouled horse’s finish vis-a-vis the other horses in the race does not factor into the decision in a Category 1 country.
I regard this year’s Los Alamitos Futurity as a quintessential example of the difference between a Category 1 country and a Category 2 country as to whether or not a disqualification in a race due to a foul should occur.
While Solomini did come in and bump Instilled Regard during the final furlong, Solomini went on to beat Instilled Regard by three-quarters of a length. Inasmuch as the margin between the two horses was three-quarters of a length, I think most people would agree that the infraction by Solomini (i.e., he came in and bumped Instilled Regard in the final furlong) did not rise to the level of having cost Instilled Regard the chance to beat Solomini. Consequently, if this race had been run in a Category 1 country, I would say it is a virtual certainty that Solomoni would not have been disqualified. And I believe there would have been some justice for this to have been the outcome because, even though it is my opinion that Solomini should have been disqualified under CHRB rules, I do also believe that the best horse in that race on that day was Solomini.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Whether or not you feel the decision to disqualify Solomini in the Los Alamitos Futurity was correct (and not even the three Stewards could unanimously agree on that), it appears to me that the top three finishers all could be major players in the lead-up to the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Solomini is a Kentucky-bred Curlin colt. Many sons and daughters of Curlin seem to get better as they get older. That could bode well for Solomini in 2018, particularly since he already has proven to be one of the leading 2-year-olds of 2017. Prior to the Los Al Futurity, Solomini had finished second in both the Grade I FrontRunner at Santa Anita on Sept. 30 and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
McKinzie was so highly regarded off his sparkling 5 1/2-length score at first asking in a seven-furlong maiden race Oct. 28 at Santa Anita, he was backed down to odds-on favoritism in the Los Al Futurity. Yes, he did not finish first. But the Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt was making only his second career start. Also, it was his first race around two turns. All in all, it is a performance that McKinzie certainly is eligible to build on in 2018.
While Instilled Regard did not win, I thought he ran quite well in defeat. It was by far his best performance yet. The Kentucky-bred Arch colt, a $1,050,000 auction purchase, lost his first two starts, both sprints, then won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race by 4 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on Oct. 19 in 1:45.76. To illustrate how much better he ran in the 1 1/16-mile Los Al Futurity, he lost by three-quarters of a length when the time of the race was a considerably faster 1:42.57. After recording a 74 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden triumph, he improved dramatically to a 91 in the Los Al Futurity. Furthermore, not only does Instilled Regard appear to be improving by leaps and bounds as he heads into 2018, it certainly helps him that he has a Hall of Fame trainer in Jerry Hollendorfer.
COMMENDABLE BEYER SPEED FIGURES
To their credit, the top three finishers in the Los Alamitos Futurity all recorded a Beyer Speed Figure in the 90s. Solomini was assigned a 92. McKinzie and Instilled Regard each recorded a 91. These figures compare favorably with recent Los Al Futurity winners Mastery, Mo Spirit and Dortmund.
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Los Alamitos Futurity (which also has been known as the Hollywood Futurity and CashCall Futurity) going back to 1992:
2017 McKinzie (91)*
2016 Mastery (91)
2015 Mo Spirit (88)
2014 Dortmund (91)
2013 Shared Belief (106)**
2012 Violence (92)**
2011 Liaison (91)**
2010 Comma to the Top (95)**
2009 Lookin At Lucky (83)**
2008 Pioneerof the Nile (86)**
2007 Into Mischief (95)**
2006 Stormello (94)**
2005 Declan’s Moon (96)
2004 Brother Derek (102)
2003 Lion Heart (99)
2002 Toccet (102)
2001 Siphonic (104)
2000 Point Given (101)
1999 Captain Steve (101)
1998 Tactical Cat (93)
1997 Real Quiet (102)
1996 Swiss Yodeler (92)
1995 Matty G (104)
1994 Afternoon Deelites (111)
1993 Valiant Nature (106)
1992 River Special (96)
*Solomini finished first by three-quarters of a length and was assigned a 92 but was disqualified and placed second. McKinzie, who finished second and recorded a 91, was moved up to first via disqualification.
**Run on synthetic footing.
TRAINER’S DOMINANCE CONTINUES
The Los Alamitos Futurity was inaugurated in 1981 at Hollywood Park when known as the Hollywood Futurity. It has been run at Los Alamitos since 2014 following the end of racing at Hollywood Park. Baffert has won this race a record 10 times (all four times at Los Alamitos and six times at Hollywood Park).
These are Baffert’s 10 Hollywood/CashCall/Los Alamitos Futurity winners:
2015 Mor Spirit
2009 Lookin At Lucky
2008 Pioneerof the Nile (future sire of American Pharoah)
2000 Point Given
1999 Captain Steve
1997 Real Quiet