Large fields, a record Pick Six pool and payoff, a fourth consecutive sweep of the Grade I Starlet and Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert were among the highlights of the 11-day Los Angeles County Fair Winter Thoroughbred meet, which concluded Sunday.

Buoyed by an influx of more than 200 horses from Northern California – due to the current suspension of racing at Golden Gate Fields – the average field size for the season was nearly nine runners per race, compared to 6.97 for the 2019 Winter meet. There were 854 participants in 98 races during the season.

This led to a sizable boost in terms of business. The average daily handle on races run at Los Alamitos was up 36% over 2019 and average daily handle increased 20% on a comparable basis to last year’s Winter season.

“This meet was an unprecedented one,’’ said F. Jack Liebau, vice president of the Los Alamitos Racing Association. “In the midst of a surge in Covid-19 cases in California and elsewhere, racing was conducted safely thanks to the excellent compliance by all participants with the preventative measures in place.

“As a result of the Covid-19 outbreak at Golden Gate Fields, trainers and caregivers were not permitted to accompany their horses to Southern California. Los Alamitos management and the connections of those horses from Northern California are indebted to the local trainers who stepped up and assumed the training and care of those thoroughbreds.

“Without their help, the meet would not have been as successful and the owners of the shippers from Northern California wouldn’t have had the opportunity to race.

“The Southern California Off-site Stabling and Vanning Fund also helped mitigate this situation by covering the costs of transporting horses from Golden Gate to Southern California.  The efforts of many contributed to how well things went during these three weeks.’’

A five-day Pick Six carryover led to a record total Pick Six pool – and payoff – Dec. 18. Chasing a carryover that had swelled to $423,178, bettors wagered $1,809,485 for a total pool of $2,232,663. The previous record of $1,558,329 was set Dec. 17, 2016.

There were six perfect tickets two days ago and each was worth $228,816, bettering the previous best of $110,732 Dec. 12, 2014.

Baffert’s latest successes in the Starlet and Los Alamitos Futurity were provided by, respectively, 17-1 shot Varda and 19-10 second choice Spielberg. The nose victory by Spielberg over 33-1 shot The Great One was Baffert’s seventh in a row in the Futurity and his 13th overall. He won it six times at Hollywood Park between 1997-2013.

The meet’s other graded stakes – the Grade III, $100,000 Bayakoa – was captured by Proud Emma for trainer Peter Miller and owners Gem Inc. and Tom Kagele.

The two other stakes were for 2-year-olds bred or sired in California. Sensible Cat won the $100,000 Soviet Problem for Irvin Racing Stable and trainer Carla Gaines while 10-1 shot Play Chicken won the $100,000 King Glorious for owner-breeder J. Paul Reddam’s Reddam Racing LLC and trainer Doug O’Neill.

Baffert, O’Neill and Jonathan Wong shared the training title with five victories.

Baffert had the most wins (nine) for the year at Los Alamitos, combining the Winter meet with the Summer Thoroughbred Festival (June 27-July 5). O’Neill was second with eight and Steve Miyadi third with seven.

A closing day triple enabled Abel Cedillo to win the jockey title. He finished with 13 victories, one more than Juan Hernandez and two more than apprentice Jessica Pyfer.

For the year at Los Alamitos, Hernandez finished with 16 wins, one more than Cedillo. Edwin Maldonado was third with 13.

Daytime thoroughbred racing will return to Los Alamitos in 2021. The first of three meets is scheduled to begin Thursday, June 24 and continue through Sunday, July 4, followed by the Los Angeles County Fair season (Sept. 10-26) and the Winter meet (Dec. 2-12).


       Play Chicken, a 13-1 outsider, held off Moving Fast, another longshot at 16-1, to win the $100,000 King Glorious Stakes Sunday, the final day of the Los Angeles County Fair Winter meet at Los Alamitos.

Under jockey Mario Gutierrez, the son of Square Eddie and the Distorted Humor mare Smoove was reserved just off the pace, gained the advantage with an eighth of a mile to run and held sway by a neck in the race for 2-year-olds bred or sired in California.

The win was the third in the King Glorious for Gutierrez, owner-breeder J. Paul Reddam’s Reddam Racing LLC and trainer Doug O’Neill. They teamed to win back-to-back runnings with Found Money (2015) and Ann Arbor Eddie (2016).

Making his first start in blinkers, Play Chicken completed the mile in 1:38.10 and returned $29, $10.60 and $7.80. He’s now won twice in three races and earned $94,000. He broke his maiden at the King Glorious distance on turf in his debut Oct. 17 at Santa Anita.

“I thought it was great,’’ said O’Neill assistant Stephanie Murray. “He showed a lot of heart. He was very gutsy, couldn’t have asked for him to do anymore. We just wanted to play the break and see how the race unfolded.

“It was kind of his (Gutierrez) decision from the get go, so I think Mario gets all the credit.’’

Moving Fast, who drew into the race from the also eligible list after Positivity, who ran in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity Saturday, scratched, rallied after breaking last in the field of 10 to outfinish 15-1 shot Club Cal by a half-length. He paid $11 and $7.20 after his initial race in blinkers while the show price on Club Cal, a four-length maiden winner two weeks earlier in his Los Alamitos debut, was $5.80.

Mister Bold, the 19-10 favorite and the pacesetter, wound up fourth, a nose in front of 2-1 second choice Good With People. Tacoflavoredkisses, From the Get Go, Ascot Storm, Wedding Groom and Govenor’s Party completed the order of finish.




        Another year, another win in the Los Alamitos Futurity for Bob Baffert.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s seventh consecutive victory in the Grade II, $200,500 Futurity didn’t come easy.

Spielberg, the 19-10 second choice, was up in the very last stride to defeat pacesetter The Great One, a maiden and longest shot in the field of six at 33-1, by a nose in the third and final graded stakes of the Los Angeles County Fair Winter meet.

Owned by a partnership that includes SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm LLC and Robert Masterson, the 2-year-old son of Union Rags and the Smart Strike mare Miss Squeal continued a remarkable streak for Baffert.

He's now won all local renewals of the Futurity since the race was moved here in 2014 after the closure of Hollywood Park. All told, he’s won the Futurity – which was offered in Inglewood between 1981-2013 – 13 times.

Coupled with Varda’s 17-1 upset in the Grade I Starlet two weeks earlier, Spielberg’s success means Baffert has swept the two signature races at Los Alamitos for 2-year-olds four years in a row.

Kept in the clear by jockey Flavien Prat, who also won the 2019 Futurity aboard Thousand Words, while never too far off the pace, Spielberg overcame a two-length deficit in the final eighth of a mile to prevail in a head-bobbing finish.

“(The Great One) was tough to get by,’’ said Baffert. “We needed every bit of that stretch and we were fortunate to get there.

“I didn’t know if I was going to run him here and I didn’t decide until after he worked well this week (six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 Dec. 13 at Santa Anita). I knew he was going to run well because he had shipped well over here and was really on it in the paddock.

“I’m just happy for everybody in the ownership group. Now we can start thinking (Kentucky) Derby. It starts here for us.

“I thought it was an easy spot last time (fourth as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes Nov. 15) and he didn’t ship well. He got nervous when he got in the stall there (Del Mar) and was just flat. We ran him back too quick. I asked (Prat) if there’s more there and he said there’s a lot more. I think he’ll get better with maturity.

In winning for the second time in six starts, Spielberg completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.56 and returned $5.80, $3.60 and $4.80. He’s earned $257,200.

A son of Nyquist who had failed to hit the board in three previous starts for trainer Doug O’Neill and a partnership that includes ERJ Racing LLC, Train Wreck Racing Stables, Niall Brennan, Tom Fritz and William Strauss, The Great One finished 3 ½ lengths in front of 6-1 shot Petruchio after leading every step of the way except the last.

He paid $16 and $10.80 while the show price on Petruchio was $5.

The disappointment in the race was 9-10 favorite Red Flag. A 7 ¼ length winner of the Bob Hope for owners Jerry and Tina Moss and trainer John Shirreffs – who was seeking his first victory at Los Alamitos -, the Tamarkuz colt was in close attendance while saving ground down the backside, got shuffled back a bit while in tight, then weakened to finish a distant fourth.

Weston and Positivity completed the order of finish.

Racing resumes Sunday at Los Alamitos. Post time for closing day of the LACF Winter meet is 12 Noon.

The final stakes of the meet is the $100,000 King Glorious. The race at one mile is restricted to 2-year-olds bred or sired in California. It is the ninth of 10 races and has a scheduled post time of 3:58 p.m.




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