Bob Baffert a double winner in return from long suspension

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High Connection won the $125,000 Los Alamitos Derby by 1 3/4 lengths, giving trainer Bob Baffert his second victory on the card in his return to competition after serving a 90-day suspension.

“What a way to come back,” said Baffert, whose punishment by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ended six days ago. The suspension had been upheld at other tracks nationwide.

Baffert earned his fifth consecutive victory in the Los Alamitos Derby and seventh since 2014 at the Orange County track, where he first visited from Arizona at age 14.

“I love this place,” said Baffert, who later moved to California to further his career training quarter horses. “Quarter horses were my life and I knew if I could make it at Los Alamitos I knew this is it.”

Rhetoric, a 3-year-old colt, won the fifth race for the 69-year-old trainer’s first win in his return. Juan Hernandez rode both of Baffert’s winners.

In April, Baffert began serving the suspension for a failed post-race drug test involving Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert wasn’t allowed on the grounds at any track and his horses were turned over to other trainers in his absence.

“I really missed it,” he said.

However, Baffert is still limited in where he can enter horses.

Last month, the New York Racing Association suspended Baffert for one year for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. That punishment, which bars him from Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct, ends Jan. 26.

The two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs that will keep him out of the Kentucky Derby until 2023. He is suing the Louisville track to have it overturned.

The punishments won’t keep Baffert from venturing back East. He has two horses – Taiba and Pinehurst – nominated to the $1 million Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Baffert also is gearing up to move his Santa Anita-based stable south to Del Mar for the start of the track’s summer meeting on July 22.

In the Los Alamitos Derby, High Connection ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.98 and paid $5.40 to win at 17-10 odds. The victory was worth $149,000.

Slow Down Andy was second and 19-1 shot Win the Day was another four lengths back in third.

Doppelganger, Baffert’s other entrant, was fourth in the five-horse field.

Arabian Knight off Kentucky Derby trail; will return later

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Arabian Knight is off the Kentucky Derby trail.

Wagering has been suspended on the 3-year-old colt for the Derby’s future wager after owner Amr Zedan announced the decision. Arabian Knight was the second choice on the morning line behind favorite Forte for the May 6 race.

“Trainer Tim Yakteen wasn’t happy with his last work & we feel it’s in Arabian Knight’s best interest not to rush & allow him more time to develop,” Zedan tweeted. “We know he’s a superior talent & our plan is to point him toward a summer and fall campaign.”

Purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, Arabian Knight won his debut by 7 1/4 lengths at Keeneland last November. He made his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest at Oaklawn in January and won by 5 1/2 lengths.

Arabian Knight had his third workout at Santa Anita.

Tapit Trice wins Tampa Bay Derby, earns Kentucky Derby points

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tapit Trice rallied from last to win the $360,000 Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths and earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

Ridden by Luis Saez, Tapit Trice ran 1 1/16 miles 1:43.37. The 1-2 favorite in the field of 12 paid $3 to win. The 3-year-old colt earned 50 qualifying points, which places him in the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher extended his record for most wins in the Grade 3 race to six. He already has the early Kentucky Derby favorite in Forte, who won the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream last weekend.

Classic Car Wash was second and Classic Legacy was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.

Tapit Trice was making his stakes debut after winning two of three starts.

“Once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself,” Pletcher said. ”I loved the way he finished up. He relished the two turns, and the longer he goes, the better he’ll get.”