Making his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Gary and Mary West's champion Game Winner returned to the races this Saturday. Wearing a set of blinkers, the 3-year-old Candy Ride colt easily captured the G3 Los Alamitos Derby by five lengths, stopping the clock in 1:48.30 for nine furlongs over the fast main track. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Joel Rosario, Game Winner was sent off as the 1-9 favorite in the field of four sophomores.
“He broke perfectly and I just wanted him to settle and be happy,” said Rosario. “We had to move a little early when (Feeling Strong) came up on our outside. He was always there for me and was very strong at the end.''
Stablemate Kingly set the early pace for Game Winner, carving out a measured half-mile in :49.25. The maiden Parsimony was in second down the backstretch, and Rosario had to wrangle a revved-up Game Winner off the rail into the three-path after the slow early pace.
Rounding the far turn, Parsimony and Game Winner lined up three across the track with Kingly, who quickly folded. Rosario let Game Winner toy with Parsimony for a moment, then dropped his hands and the colt spurted away willingly. At the wire, Game Winner was five lengths ahead of Parsimony, with Kingly checking in third.
“I think this was a perfect race for him,” Baffert said. “I put the blinkers back on him because I wanted him to get a little bit more focused leaving the gate and into the race a little bit more. He was falling back a little too far. He had worked exceptionally well coming into this. I think that break really helped him. I love the way he finished the last eighth of a mile. I told (Rosario) to give him an easy out, but try to get something out of the race and have a little foundation. The plan right now is the (Grade I, $1.25 million) Travers (Stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga).''
Bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Equine, Game Winner was a $110,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. He was undefeated in his juvenile season, winning the Del Mar Futurity, American Pharoah Stakes, and Breeders' Cup Juvenile in succession en route to an Eclipse Award. The Los Al Derby was his first win of 2019, but the colt did post second-place finishes in both of his Derby prep races earlier this season. Overall, Game Winner has won five of his eight career starts to earn over $2 million.
“It's good to have him back,” owner Gary West said. “He got knocked out and lost a little bit of weight after the Kentucky Derby. He had a horrible start and ran really hard that day, so (Baffert) just said he needed to freshen up and he seems to be back to his old self. We're looking towards the Travers for his next start and I think this was a good prep race for him.''
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