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