COMMA TO THE TOP (Bwana Charlie) was made the 5-2 favorite in Saturday's $750,000 CashCall Futurity (G1) at Hollywood Park, but his supporters were probably holding their breaths as word filtered out that the juvenile needed a new shoe for his right hind hoof prior to the running of the 1 1/16-mile test. The field continued to tour the paddock as trainer Peter Miller awaited the arrival of the blacksmith, who had to turn around and leave to fetch the needed equipment from his truck, which was having problems of its own on the backstretch.
Rain continued to pour down as the blacksmith began his work, but the fates of misfortune were not yet done with their work. An accident in the stall resulted in the blacksmith being loaded into the track's ambulance, bound for the hospital. As onlookers milled about, and the field continued to circle the paddock, a flustered Miller attempted his first shoeing. Quickly realizing he was out of his depth, the trainer backed off.
Luckily, blacksmith Wes Champagne was in trainer Neil Drysdale's barn on the backside and arrived on the scene to help. Comma to the Top's shoe was finally expertly nailed to his hoof. Thirty minutes after the race was scheduled to go off, the field entered the gate of the Futurity.
"I ran to the paddock judge and said 'we're missing a shoe'," Miller recounted the harrowing tale. "The first blacksmith came over and it was obvious he couldn't shoe the horse. He just couldn't do it. The other blacksmith that's at the receiving barn checking the feet, had already left. Neil Drysdale then calls me and said 'what's going on, do you need a shoer?' I said, 'Yeah' and he said 'Wes Champagne's here.' I said 'Send him.'
"So Wes Champagne came over, and the horse is so mad at this point. He was so frustrated and mad that I didn't think he'd run. He didn't want to be shod at that point and normally he's the most docile, calm horse in the world. I would have shod him if I had to. Seriously, when I thought they were going to scratch him, I grabbed a shoe and started to shoe him. And then I realized, I'm not a shoer.
"Luckily I called Neil back and he told me Wes was on the way, and Wes came and saved the day. We would have run with one shoe, or pulled the other one off if we had to."
Despite the delay, the two-year-olds broke in good order, with High Level Jeff (Vindication) taking command rounding the first turn. Comma to the Top took to the track after the other runners had begun their warm-ups but showed no signs of distress from his ordeal. Jockey Corey Nakatani settled the bay gelding just to the outside of High Level Jeff, and those two proceeded down the backstretch through splits of :23 4/5 and :47 2/5. Del Mar Futurity (G1) hero J P's Gusto (Successful Appeal) was in the second flight saving ground on the rail with dual stakes winner Rustler Hustler (Ecton Park) and Riveting Reason (Fusaichi Pegasus) to his outside.
High Level Jeff began backing up nearing the turn, and Comma to the Top was more than willing to take over through six furlongs in 1:11 4/5. The bay continued motoring in the stretch as his rivals struggled to keep up, eventually crossing under the wire 1 3/4 lengths in front of a re-rallying J P's Gusto, who had fallen back on the final turn.
"Wow, that was something. To run like that on top of everything that happened...he's just an amazing little horse," Nakatani said. "We've been real patient with him because at Del Mar we knew he could go long. He started moving in the right direction and as soon as he got to two turns, it seems like he's a young Lava Man. To me, he acts like it. He kicks away when you need him to and he's a typical high cruising speed horse. That move on the turn felt great. It feels like you're on a Ferrari.
"All this adversity is a plus, because he handled it like it was just another day. Right now, I'd say he's one of the best two-year-olds I've ridden. I've ridden a lot of good two-year-olds, but it always seemed something would go wrong with them somewhere along the line. When I was riding Colonel John for Eoin Harty, he would do similar things, but he had some setbacks. Knock on wood, this horse will stay healthy. I'm excited."
Owned by Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara, Comma to the Top stopped the clock in 1:44 3/5 while paying $7, $4.60 and $3.40.
"This horse is really good," Miller said. "I told Corey that if someone sends, he can sit. I worked him off horses the other day and he did great. And Nak just rode him perfect. When he made that move at the three-eighths pole, I've never had a feeling like that. After all the drama, it's just unbelievable. I do want to apologize to all the other owners and trainers. It was out of our control."
J P's Gusto was worth $4.80 and $3.80 as the 9-2 fourth pick, and it was another 3 1/4 lengths back to Clubhouse Ride (Candy Ride [Arg]), who just held Delta Downs Jackpot S. (G3) winner Gourmet Dinner (Trippi) by a head on the wire to take third. Show returned $6.40 at 19-1. The $1 exotics gave back $21.20 (exacta) and $179 (trifecta), and the 10-2-6-7 superfecta ($1) totaled $959.80.
Riveting Reason, Rustler Hustler, Slammer Time (Grand Slam), Ronin Dax (Tapit), Industry Leader (Cherokee Run) and High Level Jeff finished out the order of the Futurity.
Comma to the Top was inconsistent when he began his career earlier in the year, running second against $40,000 maiden claimers before finishing sixth against maiden rivals, both at Hollywood Park. He finally broke through with a first victory when taking a $50,000 maiden claimer at Del Mar by 8 3/4 lengths, but faltered when thrown in the Best Pal S. (G2) and Del Mar Futurity, running fourth and sixth, respectively.
Miller backed up and gave his juvenile charge some time, sending him to a pair of allowances at Golden Gate Fields, and Comma to the Top responded with dominating scores. Stepped up into listed company in the Real Quiet S., the bay proved he could handle the stretch out to 1 1/16 miles when wiring that Hollywood test by 6 1/4 lengths. He continued his turnaround while making his turf bow in the Generous S. (G3) last out, and returned to the Cushion Track to score his fifth straight victory. Comma to the Top improved his lifetime mark to 10-6-1-0 with this one, and has banked $551,600 in career earnings.
Bred in Florida by Richard and Linda Thompson, Comma to the Top has toured the sales rings twice, bringing $5,000 as an OBS October weanling before being purchased by his current connections for $22,000 as an OBS April two-year-old. He is the third registered foal out of the Stormy Atlantic mare Maggies Storm and has a pair of younger half-sisters, a yearling named Maggie Simon (Simon Pure) and an unnamed Belgravia weanling.
Comma to the Top's second dam is 1993 Virginia H. (G3) queen Maggies Pistol (Big Pistol), who would go on in the breeding shed to produce stakes victor Yes He's a Pistol (Yes It's True) and stakes runner-up Dumaani of Course (Dumaani). This is the same family as Grade 3 heroine Good Potential (Relaunch), who ran third in the 1990 Spinaway S. (G1), as well as Grade 2 runner-up Automated (Repriced).