Arnold Zetcher's Liaison survived a late scare from Rousing Sermon to prevail as the 4-5 favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park, a local prep for the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on December 17. After all, the convincing maiden winner seemed destined to win this race named for the champion three-year-old male of 1998.
Like Real Quiet, Liaison is trained by Bob Baffert. His sire, Baffert trainee Indian Charlie, finished third to stablemate Real Quiet in the 1998 Kentucky Derby. Liaison's broodmare sire, Victory Gallop, famously denied Real Quiet the Triple Crown by a whisker in the Belmont Stakes.
"He's just getting better and better," Baffert said of Liaison. "It's good to win the Real Quiet. He's been working well since Del Mar, but he's just never showed a lot of speed for an Indian Charlie. He looks more like the bottom side -- Victory Gallop, a horse that I hate."
But Liaison needed more than apt connections to justify favoritism here. Settled in fourth early by Rafael Bejarano, he raced within striking distance of the leader Senor Rain through fractions of :24 and :48 2/5. Liaison moved up to third through six furlongs in 1:13 3/5, advanced boldly on the far turn, and collared Senor Rain in midstretch.
Just as Liaison drove to the front, Cal Cup Juvenile hero Rousing Sermon delivered his onslaught from farther back. Rousing Sermon had plenty of momentum, and appeared on the verge of overtaking the favorite. Liaison switched to his left lead as he was challenged, but kept finding enough to grind out a half-length decision. He took 1:44 3/5 to finish 1 1/16 miles on the Cushion Track in his stakes debut.
"I was in good position at the beginning," Bejarano recapped. "They were going pretty slow; that's why I moved a little early from the half-mile. When I put my horse on the lead in the stretch, he pinned his ears like he wanted to go.
"When that horse (Rousing Sermon) came on the outside, my horse saw him and he started running again. He's pretty steady and you have to encourage him, but he galloped out real strong. He just doesn't want to make the lead too soon."
"He's got just enough speed to keep him in the race," Baffert said. "He's still green, but he worked real well here the other day. Turning for home, I thought if he can't win this race, I don't know about him. (Rousing Sermon) looked like he was going to run right by him, but when he got to him, my horse just kicked in again. That's what you want to see right now."
"I thought I had him until I saw (Liaison's) ears," said Joe Talamo, the rider of Rousing Sermon. "My horse ran a winning race, but every time he got close, that other horse kept pinning his ears and kept on going. The winner's a real nice horse. My horse is coming along so nice. You look at his numbers, every race he improves."
Another 3 3/4 lengths back came Senor Rain, the third-place finisher in a field of six.
Liaison, who paid $3.80, $2.60 and $2.20, advanced his line to 3-2-0-1, $94,560. Third in his September 3 debut over a mile at Del Mar, the bay rallied to a 2 3/4-length maiden score going seven furlongs at Santa Anita on October 14.
Bred by the William A. Carl Estate in Kentucky, Liaison was produced by Grade 2-placed multiple stakes winner Galloping Gal. He was sold to Zetcher for $290,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September.
The improving colt is only one of Baffert's possibles for the CashCall.
"We have several horses for the Futurity," Baffert said. "So Brilliant is going to run in the (Grade 3 Hollywood) Prevue Stakes (November 24).
"I don't know what I'm going to do with (Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint winner) Secret Circle yet.
"Drill is going to Delta Downs (for next Saturday's $1 million Delta Jackpot). We could have four starters in the Futurity or three, two, one or none. This is the time to develop them."