Descriptions of Devil's Bag range from "awesome" to "a real pro," heady stuff for any 2-year-old colt. And with just four other horses entered in today's $237,750 Laurel Futurity, he is also likely to stay unbeaten.
Post time for the feature event is 4 p.m.
The Hickory Tree Stable's horse is such an overwhelming favorite that show betting has been eliminated for the futurity. Much of the speculation concerning the race is whether Devil's Bag can break the futurity record of 1:41 3/5 for the 1 1/16 miles set by Spectacular Bid.
"My horse has a good shot at second place," said Ron Benshoff, who trains Pied A'Tierre. "That's the way you have to look at it. I thought it would be nice to race against him now, when getting second money would be like winning a $75,000 race. But this horse (Devil's Bag) does everything so easy and so fast, there is nothing like him."
Benshoff's attitude is shared by the other trainers with horses entered in the futurity: aim for second and hope Devil's Bag has an off day. In his four starts so far, that hasn't happened.
"Right now, this colt has done everything right," said Woody Stephens, who trains Devil's Bag. "But he's never been really tested, and in this business, you've just got to hope you're lucky, that the horse stays sound from day to day."
Stephens' colt worked an easy half mile in 48 2/5 at Belmont Park Thursday before being shipped to Laurel. Early yesterday, blanketed in green and eager to move, the muscular bay was walked for about 40 minutes. Stephens will supervise his final prerace gallop this morning.
"There really isn't any horse that could test him, because he does everything so right," Stephens said. "For a big colt, he gets away fast and he has plenty of sense. Right now, I'd have to put him up there as the best 2-year-old I've had."
The Maryland-bred colt, owned by Mr. and Mrs. James P. Mills of Middleburg, won his last two starts with such ease and speed--seven furlongs in 1:21 2/5 and a stakes-record mile in 1:34 1/5--that rounding out the futurity field was difficult, at best.
"My chances of defeating him off the last race (the Champagne Stakes) are slim," said Bill Burch, trainer of Hail Bold King. "But you have to take chances. You can't win in the barn."
Harrison Johnson, a trainer who gallops his own horses, conceded that Devil's Bag is indeed impressive, but added, "I'm racing for first money."
Johnson trains Ballet Partner, a gelding who won the Futurity Prep last week and worked briefly yesterday. Act Away, the other gelding, finished third in the Futurity Prep and is trained and owned by steeplechase trainer Tom Voss.
Stephens said he is not familiar with his colt's competition, but is not particularly worried that his colt's performances "have scared off the rest. As I said, I don't think there is any horse that can really test him right now. This is the first time he's really traveled (outside of Belmont and Saratoga), but he seems to feel good. He ate well and takes everything in stride. He's a pro." ...
After the Futurity, Laurel will televise the Turf Classic live from Aqueduct as the ninth race on its card--with win, place, show and exacta betting available.