Moving as if out for an afternoon joy ride, heavily favored Devil's Bag won the 61st Laurel Futurity yesterday, beating his closest pursuer by more than five lengths.
The only real question of the afternoon was whether Spectacular Bid's Futurity record of 1:41 3/5, set in 1978, would be lowered. Devil's Bag covered the 1 1/16-mile course in 1:42 1/5.
"If we can go like this, we're not worrying about any records," said trainer Woody Stephens. "We're not trying for any records."
Asked if he thought Devil's Bag could have broken the record, if he had been pressed, jockey Eddie Maple said, "My colt was so relaxed, I kept a tight hold on him around the turn and only let him run at the end. Yes, he could have run better than three-fifths of a second faster if I'd have turned him loose."
The result of the race, a surprise to no one, produced a minus win pool ($1,793.31) and minus place pool ($12,479.31), with Devil's Bag returning $2.10 and $2.10, the minimum allowed by Maryland racing rules and the lowest in Laurel's 71-year existence. Hail Bold King paid $2.10 for place and there was no show betting.
Devil's Bag has now won all five of his starts, and has performed so well that his presence in this $237,750 race surely scared off most rival 2-year-olds. He had won his four previous starts by a total of 22 lengths, leading in every race from near the start and never facing a challenge.
The other four entries in the Futurity, all supplemental nominations, never threatened the dark bay son of Halo, who broke from the third post and coasted from his first stride. Only Ballet Partner, Harrison Johnson's bay gelding, got close enough to see the shadow of Devil's Bag, galloping within a head of the leader midway through the race, but dropping back and fading to fifth.
Hail Bold King was on the outside and tried to move up on the leader near the top of the homestretch. But within four strides, he quickly faded back and as he faded, Devil's Bag continued to stretch his lead. Without even a flick of Maple's whip, the uncontested leader increased his eventual margin over that horse to 5 1/4 lengths.
"It didn't bother him (Devil's Bag) that that's as close as a horse has been to him any time down the back side. I was surprised that he didn't show any hesitation or anything," said Maple, who had little to do but stay astride his horse.
From the 16th pole to the wire, Devil's Bag began opening up a lead on the rest of the straggling field and kept "stretching out," according to Maple. "Almost full stride but not quite," he said. "I let him do a little more because the turn was coming up and I didn't want him to get sloppy with me."
But no observer could accuse the winner of that. He appeared fully relaxed while in command of what was never more than a one-horse race. It was Maple who glanced around twice, just to check on the opposition.
"He's a very relaxed colt who likes to run with his head down," said Stephens, watching a replay of the race. "It's when you pick his head up and cluck to him, that's when you have trouble. Someday I'm going to have to do that, but you hate to when he's winning like this."
Stephens said the colt has never been touched with a whip. As he watched the replay from another camera angle, the trainer chuckled, "It's all over here. Look, they're (the other four entries) still running at him and he's out there laughing at them."
Gregg McCarron, who rode Hail Bold King, called Devil's Bag the "best horse in the country." Stephens wouldn't say exactly that, but he posed a rhetorical question: "Who are you going to put in front of him?"
Purchased as a yearling for $325,000 by James P. Mills of Middleburg, Va., the colt had caught the eye of Mills' wife, who had seen him before the horse reached the auction ring at Keeneland.
"He was the best-looking of the horses that were going to be sold (at the Windfields Farm, Chesapeake City, Md.)," Mrs. Mills said. "I told my husband not to miss him."
Said Stephens, "Mrs. Mills, she knew what she was doing. This horse never makes a mistake."