Game Winner returns in Los Alamitos Derby

Champion Game Winner will commence his second half of 2019 when leading a miniscule field of four postward in the $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby (G3) on Saturday afternoon. The standout sophomore was last seen finishing 3 3/4 lengths back when elevated to fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and he is an imposing 1-5 favorite for this assignment.

Trained by Bob Baffert, the bay son of Candy Ride was perfect during his juvenile campaign and capped his brilliant season with a tally in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs. While winless from a trio of runs at three, the accomplished bay has run creditably in each of his 2019 assignments.

A close second in both the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), Game Winner was especially wide every step of the way in the Run for the Roses but still gave a good account of himself with his respectable result.

The sophomore division is currently wide-open with no three-year-old taking command at this juncture. Game Winner, with a big second half of the season, could make a case for championship honors at year’s end. And it all starts on Saturday.

His Los Alamitos Derby foes have combined for exactly one stakes win, compared to three Grade 1 tallies for the favorite. Game Winner is expected to roll over his foes and make his way to the Travers Stakes (G1) on August 24 at Saratoga. Anything but a handy win on Saturday will be viewed as a negative for the Baffert pupil.

Game Winner will be equipped with blinkers for the initial time on Saturday, and judging by his string of swift morning drills as of late, the colt will take to the experiment just fine.

If Game Winner does what is expected to do in the Los Alamitos Derby, his next assignment will go a long way in telling us if he is the superstar that raced as a two-year-old, or if the colt is simply a high-class talent that hasn’t separated himself from his fellow sophomores in 2019.

But, if Game Winner struggles on Saturday the answer might be obvious, and the planned trip to The Spa might not come to fruition, anyway.

While the Los Alamitos Derby looks like a public workout on paper for the champion, there is much more at stake for him going forward. This is the race that will lay the foundation for the second half of the season.

PHOTO: Game Winner winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 2, 2018 (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Savagery an intriguing prospect in Los Alamitos Futurity

The American Graded Stakes Committee announced recently that the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) would be downgraded next year to Grade 2 status. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the 1 1/16-mile event 10 times and has two of the strong choices in Saturday’s field of six. Rain in the Southern California area could result in a wet track.

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MUCHO GUSTO (#6) (3-1) broke his maiden over the track going six furlongs in a fast time, then shipped to Del Mar to win the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) going seven furlongs when he went to the front and controlled the pace. Baffert wins 27 percent first time going long and 35 percent first start after a win, so logic dictates Mucho Gusto will be tough in here.

IMPROBABLE (#1) (6-5) is the other Baffert runner and is the 6-5 morning-line favorite. He broke his maiden by a neck at 2-5 in his career debut at Santa Anita going six furlongs, then shipped to Churchill Downs for the Street Sense Stakes. There, the chestnut was shuffled back a bit from an inside draw but exploded in the one-mile event when Drayden Van Dyke let it out a notch and won by more than seven lengths. His 99 BRIS Speed rating is the highest of this field.

For years, you could mine pari-mutuel gold by going with the “other Baffert.” However, in this contest, I’m not sure how much different the odds will be on his two starters.

The horse that intrigues me is SAVAGERY (#2) (8-1). It took him awhile to get it together but I like his last three races. After breaking maiden by 11 lengths against maiden $62,500 claimers, he came back and was a good second in a Cal-bred stakes race at Santa Anita. Last out in the Bob Hope, the bay colt chased Mucho Gusto the entire trip and grimly hung on for second.

Here’s what I like about Savagery in this spot. Trainer Peter Miller removes blinkers for the first time. Blinkers off is a major move as horses suddenly race more relaxed and can carry their speed better. Miller wins an extraordinary 28 percent when he removes blinkers, and the last 88 times he made that equipment change he shows a major flat-bet profit.

Savagery draws inside, which is critical at Los Alamitos going two turns since the track is like a paper clip with two very sharp turns. Miller switches to jockey Florent Geroux, who does great with horses that have speed so a ground-saving trip is almost assured. Plus, Savagery is by Bellamy Road, who loved going two turns and has sired two-turn Grade 1 winners like Diversify and Toby’s Corner.

An inside post, natural speed, a rider who excels getting speed horses to relax, blinkers off and a sire who does well with these types are all the ingredients for an upset. Savagery is 8-1 on the morning line and could be higher if the Baffert horses take more money.

After all, Baffert can’t win all these races. Can he?

Win: #2

Exacta: 1, 6 with 2

Savagery romped by 11 lengths to break his maiden at Del Mar on August 15, 2018 (c) Benoit Photo

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