Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert eased back into his post-suspension routine with what has been a routine victory for him: the Los Alamitos Derby. The conditioner captured his fifth consecutive Los Alamitos Derby Saturday with High Connection.

High Connection-Los Al Derby wrap
High Connection (5) turned aside favored Slow Down Andy to win Bob Baffert his fifth Los Alamitos Derby and first stakes race since his return from suspension. (Image: Benoit Photo)

That came two hours after Baffert’s Rhetoric won a Los Al maiden race, giving the trainer his first victory since his suspension for excessive betamethasone in the late Medina Spirit ended on July 3. Baffert won both races in which he entered horses.

“I’m glad to be back and what a way to come back,” Baffert told Los Al’s Bob Mieszerski. “I love this place. The first time I came to Los Alamitos was when I was 14. Quarter horses were my life and I knew if I could make it at Los Alamitos, I knew this was it.”

Baffert began his career training quarter horses at Los Al, before he moved to Thoroughbreds.

This was a two-horse race

High Connection gave Baffert his first stakes score since his return. He upset even-money favorite Slow Down Andy by 1 ¾ lengths. The two dueled throughout the 1 1/8 miles, exchanging the lead three times until High Connection took charge in the final eighth.

Slow Down Andy was trying to become the first horse to win the Los Alamitos Derby and Los Alamitos Futurity. Last year, the Doug O’Neill charge beat Baffert’s 1/2 favorite Messier for that Futurity title.

The victory as the 1.70/1 second choice gave High Connection his second win in four races and his first since his March 26, 10 ½-length maiden-breaking debut at Santa Anita Park. In between, he has a pair of seconds in an allowance and in the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes, both at Santa Anita.

High Connection, Doppelganger both question marks

“(High Connection) kind of fell back after he broke his maiden and we weren’t really sure how far he wanted to go,” Baffert said. “The first two horses I worked when I came back were these two, and they worked really well.”

They also worked really well for Juan Hernandez, who piloted both Baffert horses to victories. The Los Alamitos Derby victory gave Hernandez a sweep of the Los Angeles County Fair Meet stakes races. Earlier, he won the Bertrando aboard Desmond Doss and the Grade 2 Great Lady M aboard Becca Taylor.

Win the Day, the longest shot on the board at 19/1, finished third. Baffert’s Doppelganger (3/1) and Got Thunder (14.80/1) rounded out the field.

“Doppelganger works so well in the morning and I don’t know why he doesn’t show more in the afternoon,” Baffert said about the Into Mischief colt who is 0-for-6 since breaking his maiden on first ask last December. “I could tell in the paddock High Connection was ready and Juan said he really brought his A-game today. He needed it because Slow Down Andy was relentless.”