INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- It's a long way from the CashCall Futurity to the Kentucky Derby, but the road there looked a little shorter for Pioneerof the Nile following his hard-fought victory over I Want Revenge in the Grade 1, $750,000 Cash Call Futurity on Saturday at Hollywood Park.
Pioneerof the Nile ($4.80), the favorite, prevailed by a nose over I Want Revenge in the 1 1/16-mile race, but it was the prospect of what he had done to date, and what the future holds, that had his connections so excited after the race.
"He's a May foal by Empire Maker. He's not supposed to be running this well as a 2-year-old," said Ahmed Zayat, who bred and owns Pioneerof the Nile.
Bob Baffert, who now trains Pioneerof the Nile, said the 2-year-old colt is "a big, one-paced horse who covers a lot of ground."
"A mile and a sixteenth, he's not going to quicken with them," Baffert said. "A mile and an eighth and longer, he's just getting in gear. He was just getting started."
Pioneerof the Nile got a perfect stalking trip under jockey Garrett Gomez, who was able to ride despite a suspension because the Futurity is a designated race. As Ventana and Frumious set off early and dueled through fractions of 23.42 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.08 seconds for a half-mile, Pioneerof the Nile settled into third, outside and in the clear.
Gomez began shoving on Pioneerof the Nile on the turn, and Pioneerof the Nile gradually advanced on the leaders. He took over just inside the furlong pole, then bravely held off I Want Revenge, who rallied menacingly heading into the stretch but never could get past Pioneerof the Nile.
"When he makes the lead, he pulls himself up," Baffert said. "As soon as he saw the other horse, he dug in."
Chocolate Candy finished another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Of the other fancied runners, Bittel Road was fourth and Azul Leon fifth in the field of 11. Mr. Rod was scratched.
Pioneerof the Nile completed 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track in 1:41.95. He gave Baffert his fourth win in this race, following Captain Steve, Point Given, and Real Quiet, all of whom proved to be major stakes winners.
Bill Mott trained Pioneerof the Nile for his first four starts. He was turned over to Baffert following the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which he finished fifth.
"He came to me in really good shape," Baffert said. "This is a pretty good gift."
'Tis the season.
Hollywood Park, 8th Race - Dec. 20, 2008