DEL MAR — There have been some mighty fine 2-year-olds that won the Del Mar Futurity, including three — Silver Charm, American Pharoah and Nyquist — that went on to capture the Kentucky Derby in the past quarter century.
It’s way early, folks, but you might want to follow Cave Rock next year if he can stay healthy and travel the Triple Crown trail. He looked every bit a Derby horse Sunday on closing day at Del Mar when he won the $300,000 Grade I Futurity in a stakes record-setting time of 1:20.99 for the 7 furlongs.
“That was pretty impressive,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who watched the race on TVG and was reached by telephone while attending a horse sale at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.
Baffert has won the Futurity a record 16 times and found the winner’s circle seven consecutive years from the late 90’s into the early 2000’s.
He owns the Del Mar Futurity, much like Cave Rock owned Sunday’s race that included two other Baffert juveniles — Havnameltdown and Newgate. The son of Arrogate, who also sired the winner of Saturday’s Del Mar Debutante (And Tell Me Nolies), went gate to wire while carving out insane fractions of 21.56, 43.65 and 1:08.55 en route to a 5 1/4-length victory over stablemate Havnameltdown.
“They all ran well,” said Baffert, who described the lightning-fast splits as “crazy.” “I would have liked to run 1-2-3, but that horse (Cave Rock) has just been really impressive in his two outs down here.”
Cave Rock, ridden by the meet’s leading jockey, Juan Hernandez, won his debut in gate-to-wire fashion by six lengths at Del Mar on Aug. 13. He was sent postward as the 2-5 favorite Sunday by virtue of that victory, and he didn’t disappoint his backers.
While Baffert believes runner-up Havnameltdown will be better at one-turn races, he thinks fourth-place finisher Newgate will thrive when the distances increase and that he sees no reason why Cave Rock can’t rock the world when he stretches out.
“When I saw that first fraction (21.56), usually 2-year-olds don’t keep going,” he said. “Those were really good 2-year-olds in that race. They were running. My horses, they all had kinda the same style, and (Cave Rock) just went faster. Cave Rock, he’s by one of the bests horses I ever trained. He’s just a freaky horse.”
Mike Smith, who rode Havnameltdown, agrees.
“He’s a beast,” said Smith, who ended the 31-day meet Sunday with a riding triple. “I gave myself a chance to be with him, but he just took off.”
Cave Rock’s victory gave Hernandez, who dominated the jockey race this summer, his meet-leading 12th stakes victory and his first in the Futurity. He has 27 stakes wins at Del Mar.
“He broke a step slow, but then he got right in gear and made the running,” Hernandez said. “I tried to slow him down some, but he wasn’t having it. So I just let him go on and do his thing. When we hit the quarter pole, I asked him and he changed leads and took off. He just wanted to go.”
Is Hernandez as impressed by Cave Rock as Smith?
“He’s something,” he said.
Cave Rock’s final time broke Declan Moon’s record of 1:21.29 set in 2004.
But while Baffert, who shared the trainer’s title with Philip D’Amato with 19 victories apiece, continues to add to his collection of Futurity wins, he’s still haunted by the losses. Those 16 victories in the Futurity? He says they’re nice, but he was still thinking about Saturday’s Debutante and Home Cooking’s close loss to And Tell Me Nolies.
“I’m still upset I got beat in the Debutante,” he said. “I think about the losses. I don’t think about the wins.”
Spoken like a true Hall of Famer.