The $300,000, Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity is the premier event for 2-year-old colts at Del Mar. Initially contested at six furlongs in 1948, the race distance gradually lengthened over the years to a mile in 1974. It was shortened to the current seven furlongs in 1993.
Although the race is no longer a challenge contest for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), the Del Mar Futurity has Breeders' Cup implications.
Since 2000, four horses – Stevie Wonderboy (2005), Midshipman (2008), Nyquist (2015) and Game Winner (2018) – have pulled off the Del Mar Futurity/Breeders' Cup Juvenile double.
In 2009, Lookin At Lucky won the Futurity but was an unlucky second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A year later, he won the Preakness. 2014's hero American Pharoah gave a hint of what was to come, with the first of eight consecutive graded-stakes victories, including, of course, the Triple Crown.
This year, a short but talented herd of six 2-year-olds will enter the Del Mar starting gate for the ninth race on Monday.
The only stakes winner in the field, No. 1 Pappacap (3-1), dominated the Best Pal Stakes (G2) by 4 3/4 lengths, beating Finneus in the process. The son of leading first-crop sire Gunrunner, Pappacap has won both starts by a combined seven lengths. Despite this, his overall speed figures are low. Don't count him out, though. Mark Casse brought four 2-year-olds to Del Mar; two have won, and one finished third. Joe Bravo fits right in with the competitive jockey colony. He is winning dirt sprints at a 24 percent clip.
What's a juvenile race without a Bob Baffert entry or two? Baffert has won five of the last 10 editions of the Futurity; the last was in 2018 with Game Winner, who earned year-end championship honors.
This year, No. 5 Murray (2-1) might become one of Baffert's prime 2022 Kentucky Derby contenders. The $300,000 Keeneland yearling graduated at first asking at Del Mar by a powerful 10 3/4 lengths, getting 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.37. His 92 Bris speed figure is one of the highest earned this year by a 2-year-old. By Street Sense out of a Tiznow mare, Murray has the pedigree and conformation to handle classic distances. The high-percentage winning trainer pairs with Flavien Prat, the meet's leading rider.
Murray's stablemate No. 4 Pinehurst (5-2) also won at first asking, although not as impressively. Pinehurst dueled with stablemate Enbarr through the stretch and inched away late, winning by a half-length. Mike Smith has been selective at Del Mar this year, competing in only eight dirt sprints. He makes them count, as he's won or placed six times.
No. 6 American Xperiment (5-2) traveled to California hoping for a softer field rather than facing the heavily favored Wit in the Hopeful Stakes (G1). The Steve Asmussen trainee wired a field of maidens over a muddy track by 5 1/4 lengths in July, getting the distance in 1:04.09. By 2015 Futurity winner Nyquist out of a graded stakes-winning daughter of Tiznow, American Xperiment should enjoy the extra distance.
No. 3 Finneus (12-1) could improve in his second start off the layoff. He closed late for second place in the Best Pal, and the extra distance of the Futurity should suit him. He has a long-shot exotics chance.
No. 2 Olympic Legend (12-1) picked a tough spot for his first start off a 71-day layoff. Although he won his last start at Los Alamitos, the Luis Mendez trainee's speed figures are the lowest in the field.
Only two favorites have won the Futurity in the last decade, although they have finished second twice and third three times.
Bob Baffert has won five of the last 10 editions of the Futurity. His charge Murray looks like the one to beat. Pappacap and American Xperiment could give him a run for his money.
No. 5 Murray (2-1)
No. 1 Pappacap (3-1)
No. 6 American Xperiment (5-2)
No. 3 Finneus (12-1)