CYPRESS, CA – Trainer Bob Baffert won his third Grade 3, $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby on Saturday, but not with the horse many expected, when Once On Whiskey headed Draft Pick at the wire for victory.
Breaking a bit slowly from post 4 under Flavien Prat at odds of 7-1 (making him the fourth betting choice in a five-horse field), Once On Whiskey raced near the rear while the early leader Ax Man, his stablemate and the 3-5 betting favorite, set splits of :24.52, :48.59, and 1:12.06. As the field straightened for home, Ax Man gave up the ghost to Draft Pick while Once On Whiskey commenced a rally from the rear. With a final furlong remaining, Draft Pick appeared to have the win in hand, but he began tiring while Once On Whiskey still chased with a full head of steam. Continuing to roll late, Once On Whiskey nailed Draft Pick in the shadow of the wire to score victory in a final time of 1:48.93 for the 1 1/8-mile event.
“Bob told me to ride him patiently and he settled nicely,” Prat said. “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.’’
Ax Man faded to finish third, 5 lengths behind the top pair and only a head in front of King Cause, while Blended Citizen never looked comfortable on the Los Al surface and completed the order of finish.
Once On Whiskey’s win improved his record to 4-2-1-1 with career earnings of $140,300 for longtime Baffert clients Karl Watson, Michael Pegram, and Paul Weitman. The 3-year-old son of Bodemeister hadn’t raced longer than 7 furlongs before this race, though his pedigree suggested that he could certainly handle the extra distance.
“He’s been working well and we’ve been wanting to stretch him out, so we decided to put him in here,” Baffert said. “In the stretch, I could tell Ax Man was starting to get tired, and I saw a horse coming and I said, ‘That’s me,’ so that was good. He needed the whole stretch to get there. I like what I saw from him today. Coming in, I really thought Ax Man could do it, but on the turn, I could see them ganging up on him and he just didn’t respond. I have to give credit to Prat. I told him just to be patient with him.’’
Once On Whiskey returned $16.60 to win and $5.40 to place, while Draft Pick paid $4 to place. There was no show betting.