A successful return to action for Game Winner, a Grade 2 repeat for Marley's Freedom and the first local riding title for 21-year-old apprentice Jorge Velez highlighted the Summer Thoroughbred Festival at Los Alamitos.
The nine-day season concluded Sunday, wrapping the first of three daytime meets in 2019 at Los Alamitos.
F. Jack Liebau, the vice president of the Los Alamitos Racing Association, said average all sources handle increased for the Summer Thoroughbred Festival over comparable dates in 2018.
“Even though we had hoped to run more days, it turned out to be a struggle to run three days a week,'' he said. “Obviously, the Southern California horse population has shrunk and some categories of horses have just disappeared.
“Although we had trouble at the entry box, handle in all areas – including on track – was up 2% on a comparative day basis over last year.''
The 2018 2-year-old champion, Game Winner toyed with three rivals in the Grade III, $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby July 13, his first start since he finished fifth – via disqualification – after an extremely wide trip in the Kentucky Derby 10 weeks earlier at Churchkill Downs.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for owners Gary and Mary West, Game Winner is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes Aug. 24.
Owned by the Wests and trained by Baffert, West Coast won both the Los Alamitos Derby and Travers in 2017 en route to earning the Eclipse Award as the 3-year-old champion male.
The Los Alamitos Derby victory was the third in a row for Baffert and his fourth in the six years the race – which was called the Swaps Stakes when offered at Hollywood Park (1974-2013) – has been run at Los Alamitos. Besides Game Winner and West Coast, he also won with Gimme Da Lute (2015) and Once On Whiskey (2018).
A 5-year-old daughter of Blame owned by Ron and Barbara Perry's Cicero Farms LLC and trained by Baffert, Marley's Freedom made it back-to-back wins in the $200,351 Great Lady M. July 6.
The win was the ninth in 18 starts for Marley's Freedom and pushed her bankroll to $1,233,935. She is scheduled to make her next start in the $500,000 Ballerina – a Grade I she won last year – Aug. 24 at Saratoga.
Velez, who was born in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, finished with nine victories, two more than runner-up Geovanni Franco.
Peter Miller won the training title, edging Baffert 5-4 after doubling Sunday with An Ocala Ten and 25-1 shot Edelman.
It was the fourth time Miller has either shared or captured the title outright at Los Alamitos since daytime thoroughbred racing returned in July, 2014.
Daytime thoroughbred racing will return to Los Alamitos in September. The 12-day Los Angeles County Fair meet will begin Thursday, Sept. 5 and continue through Sunday, Sept. 22.
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