Though it’s a relatively young race in its current format, the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) actually boasts a longer and richer history than most racing fans realize.
First run in 1974 as the Swaps Stakes, the race was a prestigious summer fixture at Hollywood Park up until the popular California racetrack closed down in 2013. For many years the Swaps was a Grade 1 race held over 1 1⁄4 miles, and its roster of winners included Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch, Hall of Fame inductee Best Pal, and Breeders’ Cup winners Cat Thief, Prized, and Precisionist.
The Swaps was shortened to 1 1⁄8 miles in 1995 and transferred to Los Alamitos in 2014, when it was renamed the Los Alamitos Derby. Under its current configuration the race has been a summer stopping point for an impressive slate of national champions, including Shared Belief (2014), Accelerate (2016), West Coast (2017), and Game Winner (2019).
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won the Swaps five times but has been even more dominant in the Los Alamitos Derby, saddling a quartet of winners between 2014 and 2019. But though Baffert’s runners have been fast and talented, the stakes record belongs to the Juan Paco Gonzalez-trained Free House, who blazed 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:45.96 during the 1997 renewal. Shared Belief owns the fastest clocking at Los Alamitos, flying to the finish line in 1:47.01.
So far, only Thunder Gulch has managed to complete the Kentucky Derby/Los Alamitos Derby double, but this could change with the Los Alamitos Derby’s newfound status as a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race. With 34 qualification points on the line (split 20-8-4-2 among the top four finishers), the Los Alamitos Derby serves as a prominent steppingstone toward Churchill Downs, providing California’s swiftest sophomores with an opportunity to accumulate Derby points without shipping out of state.
By J. Keeler Johnson
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