The $125,000 Los Alamitos Derby Saturday was a virtual match race from the start between favorite Slow Down Andy and second choice High connection. In the end, it was High Connection who proved too strong to win by 1 3/4 length, handing trainer Bob Baffert a second victory on the card.
High Connection entered back-to-back finals, including the June 11 Affirmed (G3) at Santa Anita, both with coach Sean McCarthy. Baffert guided colt Connect to a first 10-length win at Santa Anita in March before McCarthy took over training duties during Baffert’s 90-day suspension.
“He was really impressive to snap his young daughter, but he kind of backed off,” Baffert said of High Connection. “We really didn’t know how long he wanted to go. But then he worked very well (on Sunday)… You could see in the paddock that he was ready to go today.
Baffert ended his suspension on Sunday. Earlier on the card, he won a first race with Rhetoric on his first start since returning.
[Related: Baffert wins 1st race back with Rhetoric at Los Alamitos]
“I’m glad to be back and what a way to come back. I love this place. “, Baffert said. “The first time I came to Los Alamitos was when I was 14 years old. Quarter horses were my life and I knew if I could do it in Los Alamitos, I knew that was it.”
Slow down Andy, who was making his first start since winning the Sunland Derby (G3) on March 27, was scheduled to race in the Kentucky Derby for coach Doug O’Neill this spring, but fell ill and was forced to miss the entire Triple Crown. series. He won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last December and was trying to become the first winner of the Futurity-Los Alamitos Derby.
Kicked off tied favorite Slow Down Andy and Mario Gutierrez ran inside as High Connection and Juan Hernandez tied strides through opening splits of 22.46 and 46.48 seconds. They remained a head behind after six furlongs at 1:10.58.
High Connection then started to pull away in the long stretch of Los Alamitos as Slow Down Andy dragged himself before straightening up. High Connection increased their lead to a length at eighth pole, then continued to drive to the wire to win in a final time of 1:48.98 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track.
“Juan said he brought his ‘A’ game today and he needed it,” Baffert said. “Slow down Andy, he was tough. He was relentless.
#5 High Connection wins the $125,000 @losalracing Derby at Los Al Tbreds, ridden by @jjhernandezs19! Congratulations to the connections!
Another winner by Connect @LanesEndFarms
The action continues on TVG with races from stakes @prmracing and Los Al Quarter Horse tonight! pic.twitter.com/TuZEnhvj5c
-TVG (@TVG) July 10, 2022
Slow Down Andy finished four lengths clear of third-placed Win the Day, also trained by O’Neill. Doppelganger, also coached by Baffert, was close to the pace before fading to fourth.
High Connection paid $5.40 for their first win.
A $290,000 purchase at auction last year, High Connection is owned by Prince Sultan Bin Mishal Al Saud. Baffert said he had no immediate plans for the colt, but added he was looking for big things in the future.
“I don’t know yet what we’re going to do with him next, I’m just soaking it up,” Baffert said. “But on the road he will get better and better. At some point we would like to take him to (the) Saudi (Cup).
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