The 2018 edition of the Los Alamitos Derby drew a compact but competitive group of five 3-year-olds going the distance of 1 ⅛ miles. Bob Baffert, who won this race last year with West Coast, has a strong duo of Ax Man and Once On Whiskey entered. Baffert is not the only trainer with two entries as Doug O’Neill will send out the pair of Blended Citizen and King Cause. Rounding out the field will be Draft Pick, who arrives with a two-race win streak from the barn of Peter Eurton. Let’s analyze the entire field and try to figure out how the race will unfold.
#1 Draft Pick draws the rail for Eurton and will have Joe Talamo aboard once again. He was last seen taking the Affirmed Stakes by 2 ½ lengths a little over a month ago at Santa Anita. His previous two starts over this track resulted in a pair of third-place finishes when also breaking from the rail on both occasions. His best efforts have been when racing from off the pace and I would imagine those will be the same tactics for this race.
#2 Blended Citizen tackled the daunting distance of 1 ½ miles in the Belmont and only beat one horse home while finishing ninth, beaten by more than 51 lengths. Two starts ago he looked strong when taking the Peter Pan Stakes while rallying from the back of the pack at Belmont Park. He doesn’t have any local experience over this track but he does have two wins from four tries at this distance. He’s shown versatility by winning on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.
#3 Ax Man showed talent by winning his debut by over nine lengths and stamping himself as a horse to watch. He’s been the betting favorite in all five of his starts and it appears that he will be the favorite once again Saturday, though he’s never gone this far and he’s yet to win a graded stakes around two turns. He won the restricted Sir Barton Stakes two starts back at Pimlico when making an uncontested lead. He’s going to try to win this race in similar style.
#4 Once On Whiskey is the other Baffert runner in this field and his running style is the opposite of his stablemate. He was last seen finishing third as the betting favorite in an optional claiming event on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs. He broke his maiden nicely two starts back when rallying from behind the pace at Santa Anita going seven furlongs. He’s never tried stakes company and he’s never gone farther than seven furlongs, but he is lightly raced and top rider Flavien Prat comes in to ride.
#5 King Cause draws the outside for O’Neill and he appears the only other speed threat in this compact field. He finished a well-beaten fifth behind Draft Pick in the Affirmed and will now try to turn the tables on that rival. Two starts ago he dueled through solid early fractions in the Laz Barrera Stakes before weakening late. I don’t think the O’Neill barn wants Ax Man to get away with an easy lead and I think King Cause will be pressing the pace to keep him company on the front end.
How the race might unfold:
It appears like a duel of stables on paper because Baffert has the speed of Ax Man and a closer in Once On Whiskey while O’Neill counters with his own speed of King Cause and the closing kick of Blended Citizen. Ax Man will turn this race into a workout if he gets away with an uncontested lead but I think King Cause will be sent to put some pressure on Ax Man and that could open the doors for the other runners in this field.
I like the way Draft Pick has looked in his last two starts. He looks to be the now horse. There are no drastic peaks and valleys in his form, he’s been consistent overall. He’s improved steadily and has never finished worse than fourth in all seven starts. I like his inside draw, I think he has enough speed to stay close enough to the pace early on and he should be able to save all the ground hugging the rail. I like that he has local experience over this track and that he’s had three published workouts since his last race.
The bets on a $20 budget:
$10 Win on #1 Draft Pick ($10)
$5 Exacta 1 with 2,4 ($10)