DEL MAR — Trainer Ron McAnally had one of those cat-that-ate-the-canary smiles on his face. He had been deprived of his supposed fastest 2-year-old colt for the Del Mar Futurity because of a paper-shuffling oversight. But there he was, walking toward the winner's circle.
"Only needed one," he said.
McAnally had insisted On Target was step-for-step as good as Mr Purple, the missing 2-year-old. And On Target was a few steps better than Supremo--a half- length to be precise--after a stretch duel in the $250,000 race over seven furlongs Wednesday.
Not only did McAnally train On Target, he also had Del Mar Debutante winner Call Now. That gave him a monopoly on the best of the Del Mar juveniles, even without Mr Purple getting out of the barn. On Target and Call Now both were ridden by Alex Solis and owned by Verne Winchell.
"I've never dealt much with 2-year-olds," McAnally said. "All of the sudden I've got several. It gives us something to look forward to next year."
On Target came into the Futurity off only one start, a five-length victory in a maiden race. He was facing experienced horses such as Canadian invader A.J. Jett, Balboa Stakes winner Timber Country and Graduation Stakes winner Desert Pirate. Undaunted by his inexperience, the crowd sent him off as a 2-1 favorite.
A.J. Jett, winner of five in a row in Vancouver, went to the front and held a lead of 4 1/2 lengths after half a mile. On Target had settled into second.
"We knew there was a lot of speed in the race," Solis said. "Our plan was to save some ground and come running. That's how it worked out, just like we planned it. He was relaxed early in the race and then it didn't bother him when we had to move between horses. He got clear and responded very strongly."
Supremo got the jump at the top of the stretch and went past the fading A.J. Jett. He took the lead almost too quickly.
"The leader was backing up quickly and we made the lead earlier than we anticipated and he wasn't ready to be there," Stevens said. "Alex was steadily getting to him."
Solis had On Target on target and, though Supremo stayed with him under Stevens' urging, he finished strongly to win in 1:22 1/5. Timber Country, ridden by Corey Nakatani, came from next to last to finish third, 10 lengths ahead of fourth place Strong Ally.
"He ran out of room today," Nakatani said of Timber Country, "but he'll be there when those longer races came around."
The biggest question Wednesday was which of the Winchell-McAnally-Solis 2-year-olds was the best. Reporters voted Call Now horse of the meeting.
"This horse is something special," Solis said.
Then he shook his head. "But the filly is unbelievable. She's scary, like a dream horse."
Corey Nakatani finished the meet strongly with four more victories, giving him 51 and the riding title. Gary Stevens was second with 39 and Kent Desormeaux had 38. . . . Bill Spawr won the training title with 19 victories, holding off Mike Mitchell, whose two victories Wednesday gave him 18. . . . D'hallevant, second in Sunday's Del Mar Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap at a mile, will go back to the sprinting game, according to trainer Ron McAnally. His target is the Breeders' Cup Sprint. . . . McAnally also said the mare Paseana will make her next start in the Spinster Stakes on Oct. 16 in Kentucky. . . . Trainer Jenine Sahadi is aiming Escondido Handicap winner Sir Mark Sykes for either the 1 3/8-mile Louisiana Downs Handicap or the 1 1/2-mile Sam Houston Handicap, both Sept. 25, and maybe Grand Flotilla as well. . . . Trainer Richard Mandella is sending both Best Pal and King's Blade to the Kentucky Cup Classic on Sept. 24.