Catching up with weekend races in a memorable 2020 Summer Thoroughbred meet at Los Alamitos Race Course

Despite no spectators onsite, Los Alamitos Race Course served up a memorable 2020 Summer Thoroughbred meet.

An impressive stakes debut for Uncle Chuck, a successful return to California for Sneaking Out and a two-turn tally for Cezanne highlighted the Summer Thoroughbred Festival at Los Alamitos. The brief seven-day season concluded Sunday.

A son of Uncle Mo and the Unbridled’s Song mare Forest Music, Uncle Chuck toyed with three rivals in the Grade III, $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby July 4 in his first start since a seven-length debut score June 6.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Uncle Chuck, who was purchased for $250,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September sale, could make his next start in either the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes Aug. 1 at Del Mar or the Grade I, $1 million Travers a week later at Saratoga.

The Los Alamitos Derby win – which was worth 20 points for Uncle Chuck towards a berth in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby – was the fourth in a row for Baffert and his fourth in the seven years the race – formerly the Swaps Stakes when offered at Hollywood Park (1974-2013) – has been run at Los Alamitos. Besides Uncle Chuck, he’s also won with Game Winner (2019), Once On Whiskey (2018), West Coast (2017) and Gimme Da Lute (2015).

A 4-year-old daughter of Indian Evening owned by breeders KMN Racing LLC and trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Sneaking Out scored a 7-1 upset over heavily-favored Bellafina in the $201,000 Great Lady M. Stakes July 4.

The win was the fifth in 11 starts for the California bred and pushed her earnings to $431,441. It was the second win in the Great Lady M. for Hollendofer, who captured the inaugural running in 2014 with another Cal bred – Doinghardtimeagain for owner-breeder Tommy Town Thoroughbreds.

A 3-year-old son of Curlin purchased for $3.65 million in March, 2019, Cezanne is 2-for-2 for Baffert and owners Michael Tabor, Michael B. Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and co-breeder St. Elias Stable after his win going a mile July 2. A stakes race could be next for the Kentucky Derby prospect.

Baffert topped the trainer standings with four wins, the 11th time he has either led or shared the title at Los Alamitos since thoroughbred racing returned in July, 2014.

Juan Hernandez, the leading jockey at the recently-concluded Golden Gate Fields meet who decided to move to Southern California at the end of last month, and Edwin Maldonado shared the riding title. Both won six races.

The wealth was spread during the two weeks of racing as 43 different trainers and 52 different owner/partnerships won the 57 races offered.

“I’ve always said some owners and trainers enjoy more success at Los Alamitos than either Santa Anita or Del Mar,’’ said F. Jack Liebau, vice president of the Los Alamitos Racing Association. “I think this is important for the overall financial health of Southern California racing. Although some might disagree, I see it as a positive so many different connections were able to win races during these seven days.

“We also ran a pair of graded stakes during the two weeks and saw a couple of serious Kentucky Derby contenders in Uncle Chuck and Cezanne.’’

According to Liebau, all sources handle for the meet, which was spectator-less due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was up approximately 25% over comparable dates in 2019.

Summer meet final day results

Fitted with blinkers after tiring in her Santa Anita debut last month, A Melis rolled to an easy victory in a $42,000 maiden contest Sunday, the final day of the Summer Thoroughbred Festival at Los Alamitos.

Trained by Tim Yakteen for Stetson Racing LLC, Donato Lanni and Rita RiccellI, the 3-year-old daughter of Jimmy Creed and the Ghostzapper mare Seeking the Ghost stalked the pace early from the outside under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, then kicked away in the final quarter of a mile to win by four lengths in a race restricted to fillies and mares bred or sired in California.

Purchased for $130,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales in April 2019, A Melis, the 17-10 favorite in the field of nine, completed the 5 ½ furlongs in 1:03.98 and returned $5.40, $3.80 and $2.80. The $24,000 payday pushed her earnings to $27,000.

Althea Gibson, a first time starter for owner-breeder Nick Alexander and trainer Phil D’Amato, rallied for the place, finishing a half-length in front of 2-1 second choice Elgofranco. Althea Gibson paid $10.20 and $5.60 while the show price on Elgofranco was $2.80.

Empress of Fire, Shez Our Arch, Ketchup, Miss Carousel, Sweet Regards and Eddie’s Sister completed the order of finish.

Hot results for the Fourth of July

Less than one month removed from a daylight debut win, Uncle Chuck stepped into stakes company and impressed again, easily capturing the Grade III, $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby Saturday.

The four-length victory came about an hour before Sneaking Out, a 7-1 shot, upset heavily-favored Bellafina in the Grade II, $201,000 Great Lady M. Stakes

Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Uncle Chuck, a 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo, tracked the pace outside Great Power for about six furlongs, looked like he might face a challenge from stablemate Thousand Words, but kicked away to win in 1:47.65 for the 1 1/8 miles.

The victory was the fourth in a row for Baffert in the Los Alamitos Derby and the fifth in seven years since daytime thoroughbred racing returned in 2014. The other winners include Gimme Da Lute (2015), West Coast (2017), Once On Whiskey (2018) and Game Winner last year.

A $250,000 purchase out of the 2019 Keeneland September sale, Uncle Chuck, who is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Forest Music, paid $2.80 as the 2-5 favorite. There was no place or show wagering in a race reduced to four starters after Anneau d’Or was scratched due to illness.

A road trip could be next for the very promising colt, who has banked $120,000.

“That was good,’’ said Baffert. “At the top of the lane, I thought Thousand Words might get him, but at least that horse ran better.

“We’re just learning more and more about Uncle Chuck. He’s still pretty green, but he’s got gears. (Saez) was excited about him and I think he’s one of the top riders in the country. He said Uncle Chuck is still learning and has got a lot of improvement in him.

“The colt was full of himself when he came back. It’s exciting. He’s learning quickly and he has brilliance. I was impressed.

“I think we just saw something pretty special and he’s been special from day one. He’s bred to be any kind.’’

Thousand Words, who won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last Dec. 7, finished seven lengths clear of the maiden Cosmo as the 9-5 second choice and Great Power completed the order of finish.

Racing without blinkers for the first time since he scored in his sprint debut last Oct. 26, Thousand Words was seeking his initial victory since capturing the Grade III Robert B. Lewis March 7.

Saez, who gained the mount on Uncle Chuck since Hall of Famer Mike Smith was at Belmont Park to ride McKinzie in the Metropolitan Handicap, had a double for Baffert as he also won the first race aboard debuter Mohemian Rhapsody.

“(Uncle Chuck) broke great and I just left him alone,’’ said Saez. “He was doing it easy all the way. When I showed him the whip in the stretch he took off. He’s a very nice colt.’’

Owned by breeder KMN Racing LLC and trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Sneaking Out earned her fifth win in her 11th start, but it was the first in a graded event for the 4-year-old California bred daughter of Indian Evening.

Positioned outside pacesetter Artistic Diva by jockey Martin Garcia, Sneaking Out took over inside the final quarter of a mile and prevailed by three-quarters of a length over Bellafina, the 1-2 choice who was seeking her eighth graded win.

Out of the Kitten’s Joy mare Maddie’s Odyssey, Sneaking Out completed the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:14.62 and paid $16.40 and $4.40 as the fourth choice in the field of seven. There was no show wagering.

Bellafina returned $2.20 while finishing two lengths clear of 16-1 shot Amuse. Artistic Diva, Hang a Star, the 4-1 second choice, Zusha and Donut Girl completed the order of finish.

The win was the second in the Great Lady M. for Hollendorfer, who captured the inaugural running in 2014 with another Cal bred – Doinghardtimeagain for owner-breeder Tommy Town Thoroughbreds.

“That was nice,’’ said Hollendorfer. “She was laying outside and she got a little breather around the turn and when (Garcia) asked her to go she had a lot left. She finished up really well.

“I thought she could be the speed if she wanted, but we learned at Oaklawn Park that she didn’t have to have the lead. She ran a huge race there (April 25) where she got passed, then came back on and won the race.’’

Sneaking Out, who has been worse than second only twice, increased her earnings to $431,441.

Racing resumes Sunday at Los Alamitos. Post time for the final day of the Summer Thoroughbred Festival is 1 p.m.

Through six days, Juan Hernandez tops the jockey standings with six wins, one more than Edwin Maldonado, who doubled Saturday. Baffert leads the trainers with four victories.

Apprentice Alexis Centeno, a native of Puerto Rico, earned his first U.S. win with Love Your Life in Saturday’s second race.

The articles above were released by Los Alamitos Race Course.