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Juan Hernandez follows Bob Baffert’s plan to winner’s circle

Trainer Bob Baffert had one instruction for Juan Hernandez as the jockey prepared to climb up on Laurel River for Saturday’s Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar.

“Ride him to win,” said Baffert.

Mission accomplished.

Laurel River overtook American Theorem and even-money favorite Speaker’s Corner between horses coming out of the turn, then pulled away in the stretch to win the $250,000 7-furlong test for older horses on the main track by 3¾ lengths.

“He has a lot of speed,” said Baffert of Laurel River, a 4-year-old son of Into Mischief. “But he’s going to be much more effective around two turns,” — a strong hint that longer races might be in Laurel River’s future.

“Could he run a mile?” Hernandez said. “I think so for sure.”

Laurel River presented Baffert a milestone victory Saturday. The O’Brien was the 150th stakes win of Baffert’s career at Del Mar. He holds the record by a wide margin.

Laurel River was fourth down the backstretch before he turned on the jets.

“This is a nice horse,” said Hernandez. “He broke real sharp, but then he relaxed. I just tried to stay with them early. When we got to the three-eighths pole, I asked him and he responded. It’s great when that happens. And he went between horses without a problem.”

American Theorem, winner of the Grade I Bing Crosby Handicap on July 30, finished second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Senor Buscador. It was another 1¼ lengths back to Speaker’s Corner, who flew in from the east for a disappointment.

Speaker’s Corner led down the backstretch, then faded.

“I don’t know what was going on with this horse,” Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith said of Speaker’s Corner. “He was acting up. He got real hot in the warmup. Then he was acting up again in the gate. He wasn’t a happy horse today.”

Laurel River was making his seventh career start, winning his only previous 2022 outing July 31, also at Del Mar. Laurel River paid $15.80 to win.

Edgeway repeat?

Last year, Edgeway defeated three other horses to win the Grade III Rancho Bernardo Handicap. This year, two more entries have stepped up hoping to deny the 5-year-old daughter of Competitive Edge a second straight win in the 6½-furlong sprint for older fillies and mares.

Edgeway is a slight favorite over Slammed and Private Mission on the morning-line.

Trained by John Sadler, Edgeway finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar last Nov. 6. She won two races at Santa Anita earlier this year before finishing sixth in the Grade I Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs on May 7. She will have Hernandez up for the first time.

Slammed will be competing in her first graded stakes race. But the 4-year-old daughter of Marking has won seven of her last eight starts, with four of the wins coming in $100,000 races. Trained by Todd Pletcher with Drayden Van Dyke up, Slammed’s most recent win was at Del Mar on July 28.

Private Mission led early but finished last in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 6. The 4-year-old daughter of Into Mischief is trained by Baffert with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith up. She has two Grade II and a Grade III stakes win in her resume.

Pacific Classic works

Undefeated Flightline completed his series of workouts in preparation for next Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic by covering 5 furlongs in 59.6 seconds in what trainer Sadler called a “soft” outing. Flightline will be the heavy favorite in the Pacific Classic.

Two of the eight nominees for Del Mar’s premier event apparently will not challenge Flightline.

Sadler told Del Mar officials that Heywoods Beach, winner of the Grade III Cougar II at Del Mar on July 24, would race in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap on the Pacific Classic undercard. Baffert said he probably would opt to run surprise Pacific Classic nominee Taiba in the Shared Belief Stakes also on Sept. 3.

Other Pacific Classic nominees who worked Saturday were Country Grammer (5 furlongs in 1:00), Express Train (6 furlongs in 1:12.80), Extra Hope (6 furlongs, 1:12) and Stilleto Boy (5 furlongs in 1:00).

Notable

Trainer Jonathan Wong had two wins Saturday — Holiday Arousal ($12.20) in the first and Lexington Humor ($8.80) in the seventh — giving him six wins over the last three days. Wong started the weekend with his first three-win day ever at Del Mar on Thursday. The six wins have vaulted Wong from 10th to a tie for fourth in the trainer standings.

<bullet><TH>There were three turf races Saturday and Umberto Rispoli won all three with Emerald Lake ($3.80) in the third, Lexington Humor for Wong in the seventh and Border Town ($5.80) in the 10th.

Laurel River’s win boosted Baffert into the lead of the trainer standings.

Center is a freelance writer.