- Owner / West, Gary and West, Mary
- Breeder / Summer Wind Equine
- Owner / Reddam Racing LLC
- Breeder / Maria Montez Haire
- Owner / Clearview Stables, LLC, RAC 04 Racing, LLC and Meegan, Michael
- Breeder / Clearsky Farms
One half of Gary and Mary West’s envisioned entry for the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes punched his ticket for a cross-country flight July 13, when their 2-year-old champion Game Winner posted his first victory since the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he rolled to an easy five-length victory in the $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby.
Up next comes July 20, when the Wests’ Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first to 17th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, will run in the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park with an eye toward the Aug. 24 Travers at Saratoga Race Course.
On Saturday, however, the story was Game Winner, a son of Candy Ride who had an easy time over three rivals under a relaxed ride by Joel Rosario. The bay colt picked up his first victory as a 3-year-old after three straight defeats, recovering from a sore back that sidelined him for more than two months after a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
“I think this was a perfect race for him,” said winning trainer Bob Baffert, who registered his ninth victory in the Los Alamitos Derby and third in a row. “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 Travers.”
Game Winner, purchased for $110,000 by agent Ben Glass from the Lane’s End consignment at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, was third in the early stages after an opening half-mile in :49.25, then moved up three wide on the turn. He seized the lead from Parsimony in midstretch and pulled away with gusto in the final furlong to cover the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.30. Parsimony held for second by four lengths over Kingly, who is also trained by Baffert.
“He broke perfectly and I just wanted him to settle and be happy. We had to move a little early when [Feeling Strong, who finished fourth] came up on our outside. He was always there for me and was very strong at the end,” Rosario said.
Bred by Summer Wind Equine in Kentucky out of the A.P. Indy mare Indyan Giving, Game Winner came into this year as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby off an undefeated, 4-for-4 campaign at 2, but then finished second twice, by a nose in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and by a half-length in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
Following some back stiffness, Game Winner seemed to regain his old verve in his recent workouts, building expectations for a strong second half in a 3-year-old division that lacks a clear-cut leader.
A 1-20 favorite, Game Winner paid the minimum $2.10 to win.
It was his fifth win in eight career starts and elevated his earnings to $2,027,500.
“It’s good to have him back,” 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.”