A small but intriguing field goes forward in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby later this afternoon. One of the highlights of the short summer meet, it features 5 3YO’s going 9 furlongs for a purse of $150K. Horses that run well could find themselves in any level of 3YO races left this summer, such as the Pennsylvania Derby or even the Travers, or even the Pacific Classic against older at Del Mar with a lights-out performance.
The race begins with Ax Man, who was last seen getting destroyed by Indiana Derby (later today as well) favorite King Zachary in the Matt Winn. He was 1/2 in that race — he’s been the favorite in all his starts and odds-on-in every one but his debut. He’s trained by Bob Baffert. He’s put up two sub-par performances in his career — in the aforementioned Matt Winn and in the 7f San Vincente where he was run of his feet by Kanthaka. It’s possible he didn’t like sprinting and it’s also possible he didn’t care for the Churchill Downs surface. But we have to wonder if he just didn’t feel like putting his best effort forward on either of those days. His other three performances were dominant wins by open lengths. He has three solid works since the Matt Winn. He’ll likely be the favorite again today — how low you’re willing to go on an unreliable, but fast, horse is the question.
Blended Citizen returns from a disappointing Belmont Stakes performance for Doug O’Neil. He previously won the Peter Pan over Core Beliefs and showed the form that earned him a 4th place finish in the Bluegrass. He’s the most experienced runner in the field with 11 lifetime starts and was on an upward trajectory before running into Justify and 12 furlongs. He’s not as fast as Ax Man at Ax Man’s best — no one in the field is — but stands a decent chance to run down the leaders on the long Los Alamitos stretch. I’d be willing to draw a line through the Belmont Stakes performance. Kyle Frey–who has been aboard all year–keeps the mount.
Draft Pick took a while to break his maiden, but when he returned in May from a short break, he did it emphatically. He immediately turned around the next month and took the GIII Affirmed Stakes earning a career-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. He looks to continue that hot streak today and go for three wins in a row. Trained by Peter Eurton, he is the only runner with experience at Los Al, running in two maiden races here, with 2 third place finishes. He does not seem to have a dislike for the surface — a plus, as everyone else faces a question in this regard. Slight improvement, or a subpar effort from Ax Man, puts him on top.
Once on Whiskey qualifies as the “other Baffert.” He hasn’t run particularly fast and nothing about his workouts are notable. He was last seen finishing 3rd on Derby Day in a 1st level allowance for three year olds. He’s yet to stretchout — something that could favor this son of Bodemeister out of a Mineshaft Dam. He’s a bit of an X-factor, piloted by Flavien Plat, and could make some noise at the end. He won’t be a huge price because of his trainer, but he could be a reasonable mid-to-longshot to include in the late P4.
King Cause is the other “O’Neil.” He’s yet to show the speed necessary to win here today and was beaten by Draft Pick by 10 lengths in the Affirmed. He has some early speed which could challenge Ax Man and set things up for Blended Citizen to make a charge at the end.
Analysis: Ax Man has proven a bit unreliable, and while he can win, I prefer the improving Draft Pick to lay slightly off the speed and make a winning move at the top of the long Los Al Stretch. He’s on a roll and I expect it to continue. Once on Whiskey is intriguing on the stretchout and is playable at 8-1 or better.