Arnold Zetcher's Liaison may have dropped his initial career outing, but the Bob Baffert pupil has been unbeatable since. On Saturday, just two days following the death of his sire, Indian Charlie, the colt added the Grade 1, $750,000 CashCall Futurity to his resume when holding the furious late rally of Rousing Sermon to score by a neck on the wire.
"We've had emotions all week about Indian Charlie," Baffert said. "He was such a good horse and he didn't get going as a sire until the very end."
Handsome Mike and Drill both headed to the front when the gates opened on the 8 1/2-furlong test, with the former keeping his head in front through splits of :23 1/5 and :46 4/5 while racing on the rail. Liaison and jockey Rafael Bejarano were biding their time while saving ground on the inside in fourth, but angled out leaving the second turn.
Drill managed to briefly stick his head in front through six furlongs in 1:11, but both he and Handsome Mike were quickly swallowed by the field in the lane. Liaison separated himself from the pack and struck the front, but then had to withstand Rousing Sermon. That one came from the rear, circling the entire field, to just miss as Liaison stopped the clock in 1:42 4/5 on the Cushion Track.
"He's just going to improve off this race," Bejarano said. "I'm really happy with this horse. (Baffert) has done an awesome job with him.
"He broke so well, but I knew there were a few speed horses in there, so I just put him right in behind them. I was just waiting and waiting and when I found the right opportunity, I swung him out in the stretch and he showed a big kick."
Sent off the 5-1 second choice, Liaison paid $12.20, $7.20 and $4.80 for holding Rousing Sermon a second straight time. The pair met up in the 1 1/16-mile Real Quiet Stakes last out, with Rousing Sermon a half-length back on that occasion. Liaison became the second consecutive Real Quiet victor to go on and take the Futurity, following in the hoofsteps of last year's winner, Comma to the Top. He also gave Baffert a record sixth win in the race.
"Winning this race is very important. It's the last chance to run at a big pot other than the Breeders' Cup," Baffert said. "This race is very pivotal for future stars. It's where they start separating themselves. I'm glad I was on the front end of the separation."
Following the top two under the line on Saturday was Brother Francis, who had a half-length to spare on fourth-place runner Sky Kingdom despite his jockey losing the whip inside the eighth-pole. Empire Way, Blingo, Handsome Mike, Cozzetti, Drill, Majestic City, Basmati and Desormais completed the order of finish. Groovin' Solo bumped early and saw his right rein break rounding the first turn. Jockey Alonso Quinonez managed to keep him in the back of the field and pull him up nearing the first turn.
Bred in Kentucky by the Estate of William A. Carl, Liaison finished third in his September 3 career debut while going a mile on Del Mar's Polytrack. He showed up a month later at Santa Anita and took to the dirt track when posting a 2 3/4-length maiden victory at seven furlongs. The bay returned to a synthetic surface as well as more ground when entered in the November 12 Real Quiet over Hollywood's Cushion Track, rallying in the lane to grab command and hold for the half-length win.
Saturday's Futurity boosted Liaison's earnings to $469,560 and his line now reads 4-3-0-1. He is the first black-type winner produced by the Victory Gallop mare Galloping Gal, herself a Grade 2-placed dual stakes diva.