Bob Baffert’s silver hair was glistening under a warm Orange County sun in the Los Alamitos winner’s circle. Betting on a Baffert-trained horse to win a race is a no brainer. Except when there’s two in a race, you always have to beware of the “other” Baffert.
That was the case in Saturday’s $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby. Ax Man, trained by Baffert, went off as the 4-5 favorite. He set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile race. Then Draft Pick took the lead in the deep stretch, but Baffert’s 7-1 longshot Once On Whiskey caught Draft Pick at the finish to win by a head under jockey Flavien Prat.
“I could tell Ax Man was starting to get weak in the stretch,” Baffert said. “I saw a horse coming. ‘Well, that’s me. That’s good.’ He needed the whole stretch.”
Once On Whiskey, a 3-year-old son of Bodemeister, had never run farther than seven furlongs in three starts. Baffert wanted to stretch him out and didn’t see a race to do so at Del Mar, so he entered him in the five-horse field.
“I like what I saw today,” Baffert said. “What he did was pretty impressive.”
Said Prat: “He’s pretty much push button and because they were going slow up front, I asked him to pick up the pace a little sooner. He really gave me a strong finish and that long stretch helped.’’
It was a tough defeat for Draft Pick, who won the Affirmed Stakes in his last start. The son of Candy Ride opened a 1 1/2-length margin with an eighth of a-mile to go after overhauling Ax Man. Jockey Joe Talamo had Draft Pick in ideal position but Once On Whiskey kept closing.
“I give a lot of credit to Prat,” Baffert said. “I just told him to be patient with him and ride him the way you think.”
Baffert insisted he thought Ax Man would win the race, but he sure was quick to change allegiance during the 1,400-foot stretch drive.
“I switched camps immediately,” he said.
Once On Whiskey returned $16.60 and $5.40. Draft Pick paid $4.00. Ax Man finished third. There was no show betting. The final time was 1:48.93.
The Los Alamitos Derby has been producing some pretty good horses in recent years. Shared Belief won in 2014, Accelerate in 2016 and the Baffert-trained West Coast won last year.
Los Alamitos will have its final racing day on Sunday. Del Mar’s summer meeting begins on Wednesday with a 10-race card headed by the Oceanside Stakes.