Trainer Peter Miller stood atop the second-story staircase on Barn 66 South overlooking the training track at Hollywood Park Wednesday before entering Majestic City in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity Saturday.
“He’s being dismissed by a lot of people, but at their own peril,” said Miller, as optimistic about the chances of the 2-year-old colt as he was about those of Comma to the Top before he won the Grade I test at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track last year.
Comma to the Top came into the Futurity on a four-race winning streak last year while Majestic City enters the race on a three-race losing skein, but Miller has not lost faith in the chestnut son of City Zip.
“Comma to the Top came into the race in great shape and Majestic City is coming in just as well,” said Miller. “He’s doing super. He worked awesome the other day (a bullet four furlongs in 46.80 seconds December 7). He is on point.”
Majestic City showed his fondness for the main track here during the Spring/Summer meet with three victories in as many starts, climaxed by a score in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship. Only Swiss Yodeler in 1996 has been able to sweep the Juvenile and Futurity.
Killer Graces posted an upset win in the $402,000 Grade I Hollywood Starlet for fillies Saturday to end a three-race losing streak following domination of the Spring/Summer meet with two stakes wins, a pattern not lost on Miller.
“You can throw out his last race because of the soft turf,” said Miller in reference to a distant 13th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs November 5 after setting the early pace.
“He could have easily won the two races before that,” said Miller, alluding to a second-place finish in the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland and a second-place finish in a roughly-run Del Mar Futurity in which he was disqualified and placed third for interference.
“He’s three-for-three here, training like a beast, and gets the leading rider in the country,” said Miller of jockey Ramon Dominguez, flying in to ride him for the first time. “He should be the favorite in my opinion.”
Track linemaker Russell Hudak tended to agree with Miller’s reasoning and indicated he could make Majestic City the tepid favorite in the field of 13. Majestic City drew post 11 in the Futurity, which will be run as the ninth race.
“I’m taking blinkers off, getting him to relax,” added Miller. “I expect to see him a little off the pace, maybe sitting second or third.”
Miller seeks to join Hall of Famer Bob Baffert as the only trainer to win the Futurity in consecutive years. Baffert, who entered a formidable trio of Drill, Liaison and Sky Kingdom, has won the race a record five times, including back-to-back twice.
Miller will never forget Comma to the Top’s victory last year in a rainstorm following a lengthy delay in the paddock to replace a lost shoe.
“It was probably the longest half hour of my life,” said Miller of the delay when one blacksmith was injured and a replacement needed to be found. “It was surreal. The elation I felt afterwards I never felt before.”
Comma to the Top, a Florida-bred gelding who gave Miller the richest victory of his career in the Futurity, scored an impressive victory in a $56,000 allowance race Sunday, covering seven furlongs in 1:21.63 in his second start back following a seven-month layoff.
“He’s a thoroughbred horse who should have been running in the 1920’s,” said Miller, eyeing the Malibu Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita December 26 for his next start. “The more I run him, the better he runs.”