December 6, 2022

Classier fends off Defunded in Baffert exacta in Los Alamitos Derby

Classier and jockey Mike Smith, inside, hold off stablemate Defunded and jockey Abel Cedillo in a thrilling stretch duel to win the Los Alamitos Derby (Benoit Photo)

Bob Baffert was virtually certain to win the $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby (G3) for the fifth straight year on Sunday, with the two best runners in a short field of five. The question was which of the Hall of Fame trainer’s entrants would do the honors. While Defunded was the 3-5 favorite, it was his 13-10 stablemate, Classier, who prevailed after a prolonged battle.

Classier had been favored in their prior meeting in the June 13 Affirmed S. (G3) at Santa Anita, only to stumble at the break and wind up a remote third to The Chosen Vron and Defunded. The beautifully-bred son of Empire Maker was making his belated reappearance that day, his first start since finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).

If ring-rustiness played a role in his subpar comeback, Classier was a lot sharper second time out. Again breaking from the rail, he hustled to set the pace for his new rider, Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Classier sailed through fractions of :22.98, :47.01, and 1:11.08 before Defunded, who had been reserved in third, launched his bid.

For the duration of the long Los Alamitos stretch, Defunded did his utmost to get past Classier. Yet the frontrunner dug in, refused to yield, and kept his nose in front. Classier completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.15 to advance his record to 4-2-0-1, $155,000.

The other three runners were outclassed. Fourteen lengths behind in third came Ingest. It’s My House, Classier’s nearest pursuer through the first six furlongs, dropped back to fourth, and Back Ring Luck concluded the order of finish.

The paucity of three-year-olds interested in the Los Alamitos Derby almost derailed it. The race was pushed back from Saturday to Sunday to give an extra day to scrounge up another runner. According to Daily Racing Form, that fifth entrant was none other than Classier.

Classier and jockey Mike Smith return for photos after winning the Los Alamitos Derby (Benoit Photo)

Baffert has had a stranglehold on this race since its transfer to Los Alamitos, winning six of the eight runnings here. He also won five editions in its original incarnation as the Swaps at Hollywood Park.

Owned by the partnership of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson, Classier was a smart debut winner at Santa Anita last fall. That prompted an ambitious tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The 13-day turnaround, shipping to Keeneland, stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, and chasing a wicked pace all proved too much for the colt. The Los Alamitos Derby signals that he could have a productive second half of the season.

Classier, a $775,000 Keeneland September yearling, was bred in Kentucky by Mary A. Sullivan. The bay is out of the Bernardini mare Class Will Tell, who comes from the family of Grade 2 vixen and multiple Group 1-placed Homerique, unbeaten Group 1 winner White Moonstone, Grade 3 scorers Independence Hall and Black Onyx, and further back, 1995 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) queen Desert Stormer.