Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won three editions of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course and plans on adding a fourth when he sends last year's Champion Two-Year-Old Game Winner to the Spa following an effortless victory in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Derby on Saturday.
Baffert and owners Gary and Mary West teamed up to win the Travers two years ago with West Coast, the eventual Champion Three-Year-Old. That score came one year after the memorable track record breaking performance from Arrogate, who also was trained by Baffert.
A Candy Ride bay colt, Game Winner bested a four-horse field in the Los Alamitos Derby and was geared down at the wire by jockey Joel Rosario as the 1-20 post time favorite.
“We were lucky the race even ran, but he's been really well. I expected a big race out him and a real positive race,” Baffert said. “He went along there with the blinkers and when he asked him to go, he took off that last eighth of a mile. He got something out of it and we're happy with that. We did the same thing with West Coast and took the same route.”
Baffert plans on making an earlier trip to the Spa with McKinzie, who will target the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on August 3, a “Win and You're In” for the Breeders' Cup Classic. The 4-year-old bay son of Street Sense was most recently a troubled second to Mitole in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.
“He just had a little tough spin there on the inside, but we put that behind us. It's on to Cincinnati, as Belichick would say,” Baffert quipped. “I was always really high on him as a 2-year-old. He was immature, but now he's starting to put it together. I don't think distance will be a problem. He just has to be ridden the right way and I think that [Hall of Fame jockey] Mike [Smith] has him figured out now.”
Other possible entrants for the 1 1/8-mile test over the Saratoga main track are Vino Rosso, Yoshida, Quip and Tom's d'Etat.
McKinzie will seek his first Grade 1 win of the year. He won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity at 2 and the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu, both Grade 1 events, at 3.
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