Los Alamitos Derby horses try to heat up in the summer (2024)

The Los Alamitos Derby on Saturday marks the local start of what should be an intriguing second half of the 2024 season for followers of the nation’s 3-year-old colts.

Different horses won the Kentucky Derby (Mystik Dan), Preakness (Seize the Grey) and Belmont Stakes (Dornoch) this spring, leaving the campaign for the division championship wide open going into the summer. In the latest national rankings determined by a National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll of turf journalists, votes for No. 1 went to Mystik Dan, Dornoch, Derby runner-up Sierra Leone and Belmont runner-up Mindframe. With support spread among so many of the males from the Triple Crown series, the top-ranked 3-year-old actually is the filly Thorpedo Anna, who is dominating races against her own sex.

In a year like this, there’s a chance for horses who didn’t star in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, or didn’t even run in the classics, to jump into the spotlight in races leading up to the Nov. 1-2 Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar. It’s happening already.

“(The) 3-year-olds are all pretty nice this year. (There are) new shooters every month,” said Bob Baffert, who trains some potential stars.

Three-year-olds can be the most fascinating age group because they’re still developing, establishing their inclinations for distances and running styles in races against each other before taking on older horses in the late summer and fall. Think of them as four-footed high school and college athletes.

Since it’s not uncommon for the Triple Crown races to be won by three horses, fans have an idea what to look forward to from here on.

Horses who ran in the spring classics, but didn’t earn headlines, will heat up in summer races on both dirt and turf. Those could include Santa Anita Derby winner Stronghold (expected to run next in the July 20 Haskell Stakes in New Jersey), Endlessly, Catching Freedom, Fierceness, Honor Marie and Japan-based Forever Young. They’ll be trying to emulate horses like Taiba, Code of Honor and Battle of Midway, who ran and lost in the Kentucky Derby in the past 10 years but went on to earn top-three finishes in voting for the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male.

Horses who didn’t get to the classics, for various reasons, will start fresh. A couple could be Baffert-trained Muth, the Arkansas Derby winner who was scratched from the Preakness because of illness and is aiming for the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, and Parenting, the 7½-length winner of the Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita last month who is likely to go to the Haskell. Others could include Batten Down, General Partner and Timberlake. They’ll try to be this year’s Arrogate or West Coast, the 2016 and 2017 3-year-old champions who missed the Triple Crown races, or Life is Good, Omaha Beach, Catholic Boy, McKinzie or Shared Belief, all of whom finished in the top three in the voting in recent years despite skipping the Triple Crown.

A horse will come from Europe or Britain, win a Breeders’ Cup race and receive North American championship votes. Modern Games and Auguste Rodin did it the past two years. Epsom Derby winner City of Troy could be the one this year.

And a horse who does his fastest work in sprints will demand attention. That could be Grade I-winning sprinter Book’em Danno, or Raging Torrent, the Doug O’Neill-trained colt whose allowance-level win at Churchill earned third-highest Equibase speed figure by a 3-year-old in 2024, or Tapalo, the John Sadler-trained ridgling whose Laz Barrera Stakes romp at Santa Anita earned the seventh-best Equibase figure of his generation.

Tapalo is favored Saturday at Los Alamitos in the $100,000 Los Alamitos Derby. It’s unlikely a championship prospect will come out of this race, which rates a rung or three below summer stakes like the Haskell, the Travers, the July 27 Jim Dandy at Saratoga and the Sept. 21 Pennsylvania Derby. But it has happened before: West Coast and Shared Belief (2014) won the Los Al Derby to launch big second half-seasons.

Tapalo bounced back from a rough Santa Anita Derby to lead all the way and win the May 12 Laz Barrera by seven lengths.

“It was a tremendous race for him,” Sadler said of Tapalo. “We thought he would have a good chance in there, and he just kind of exploded. It was really a good step forward.

“That’s probably an ideal distance for him, but we think he can do other distances,” Sadler said as Tapalo goes from the 7-furlong Barrera to the 1⅛-mile Los Al Derby. “I also just think he’s a 3-year-old that’s on the upgrade.”

As for Tapalo’s place in the national picture, Sadler said: “I think he’s in the B group. He’s behind the classic winners, obviously, and a few of them. But he’s an interesting horse to watch.”

Baffert, winner of the past seven Los Al Derbies and 13 overall, entered Wynstock and Cornell. Wynstock won the Los Alamitos Futurity in December but has outrun only two horses in three starts since. Cornell is making his second start since January after a distant third to Parenting in the Affirmed.

“My Los Alamitos horses are going to have to move forward,” Baffert said. “Wynstock likes the surface there but needs the lead to win.”

Here’s the Los Alamitos Derby field, post position 1 to 5: Tapalo (Hector Berrios riding), 7-5 morning line; Cornell (Edwin Maldonado), 2-1; Wynstock (Kyle Frey), 3-1; Kamaina Cruiser (Abel Cedillo), 15-1, and Curlin’s Kaos (Mario Gutierrez), 9-2.

Sadler, whose promising 3-year-olds include the recent Santa Anita maiden breaker Eagles Flight, said the fact the Triple Crown was split three ways doesn’t diminish the division’s quality.

“I think it’s a year when they’re taking turns, but I think they’re nice ones taking turns. There’s a lot of nice horses out there, whether it’s Dornoch or Mystik Dan, or the horse Parenting of Baffert’s who’ll maybe be the favorite in the Haskell,” Sadler said. “They’ll keep running, and we’ll see how it shakes out at the end of the year.”

Follow horse racing correspondent Kevin Modesti at Twitter.com/KevinModesti.

Los Alamitos Derby horses try to heat up in the summer (2024)
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