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Juveniles Set for Cashcall Clash

Believe it or not, the road to the 2009 Kentucky Derby has already begun. Even before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, horsemen were whispering about who the early favorite for the Derby would be. It’s already passed hands a few times. At first, there was Azul Leon, the winner of two graded stakes races; then Vineyard Haven, who opted out of the BC Juvenile and let his stable mate, Midshipman, have a share of the spotlight; and now it’s Old Fashioned, whose mind-boggling easy win in the Remsen Stakes still has fans raving. And while three of these four will not be present for the Grade I $750,000 Cashcall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Saturday, Azul Leon must put forth a stunning effort to regain his foothold as one of the top juveniles in the division.

To be realistic, Azul Leon is not the horse to be watching out for in the Cashcall. Even though trainer Doug O’Neill says his morning workouts show he can handle two turns, both of the horse’s efforts that extended past 7 furlongs bombed. Even some of the “Blue Lion”’s wins haven’t been all that impressive; his second graded stakes win, the Grade II Best Pal Stakes, came after the winner, Kelly Leak, was disqualified. Make no mistake about it; there is plenty of talent in the field waiting to pick up the slack should Azul Leon turn in another flop.

One horse who is on the upswing is Chocolate Candy, the winner of the Real Quiet Stakes, which was also run at Hollywood Park. The son of Candy Ride is a colt that seems to like the longer distances, as he’s won his previous two races at a mile and 1-1/16th miles. Here he will have the advantage over Azul Leon, but has he really faced much competition? Chocolate Candy lost his first three races before stretching out beyond a sprint, so it seems he is coming into his own at this distance at just the right time.

There are some colts in the Cashcall who’ve made their names known from runner-up performances, like Pioneer of the Nile, who placed fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Bittel Road, who won his first three starts before finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; but my interest is piqued by some lesser-known horses. One is Frumious, by Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, who has won three races in a row at Golden Gate Fields. Another is Axel Foley, a horse who broke his maiden the second time out over the synthetic at Lingfield. According to his trainer, John Best, Axel Foley had plenty of gas left in the tank when he won at 7 furlongs. If he can go the distance, this English import could be a real threat.

And then there is trainer Bob Baffert, a guy you never want to count out. He is saddling both Pioneer of the Nile and Ventana in the Cashcall. Baffert has won this race three times before, most recently with Point Given in 2000. If you remember, Point Given won both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes; the Cashcall Futurity is a springboard race to the Big Time, as last year’s winner, Colonel John, can tell you. As Baffert is no longer training Midshipman, since Godolphin is sending the colt over to Dubai until the Kentucky Derby, hopefully his interests will be focused on these two promising colts.

Whatever happens in the Cashcall, chances are at least one of these colts will end up in the field for the 135th Kentucky Derby. There may be snow outside, but the roses are already in sight.


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