12/16/2011 3:44PM

Los Alamitos: Walkin Bac targets big win in Southern California Derby

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Walkin Bac starts in his third major stakes final of 2011 in Sunday’s $171,750 Southern California Derby at Los Alamitos, a last chance to end a frustrating season of losses for the gelding and his trainer, Jose Antonio Flores.

Walkin Bac has made nine starts in his career and has been second six times, including the Holiday Handicap last January, the Governor’s Cup Derby in July, and a division of the Southern California Derby trials on Nov. 27. He was fifth in the Los Alamitos Winter Derby in February.

“He’s due for a big one,” Flores said Thursday. “I think he’s sitting on a big race. I think he’ll be tough.”

Flores was elated when Walkin Bac drew post 9 in the field of 10. On several occasions, Walkin Bac has run well when drawn outside. The 400-yard Southern California Derby will be the second time that jockey Rodrigo Aceves has ridden Walkin Bac, having been aboard for a second in the Nov. 27 trial race. Juan Andrade rode Walkin Bac earlier this fall.

“I think the rider change is helping him a lot,” Flores said. “It doesn’t mean that Juan wasn’t doing a good job. I think Rodrigo can help him get out of the gate a little bit. Anything can change a horse’s mind.”

Owned by Steve Burns, Walkin Bac ran a qualifying time of 19.74 seconds, equaling the third-fastest time. A colt by Walk thru Fire, Walkin Bac finished a half-length behind fastest qualifier El Aguila Real, who is trained by Vince Smith. El Aguila Real, seeking his first stakes win on Sunday, starts from post 3.

“Last time, that other horse beat us,” Flores said. “I think we have a better post than him this time.”

Flores respects Eddie Ray Vaughn, who won a division of the trials in 19.72 seconds, and First Black Wagon, a trial winner in 19.74 for his fourth consecutive win.

Flores is seeking his first graded stakes win of the year in the Grade 1 Southern California Derby. Aside from Walkin Bac’s runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Governor’s Cup Derby, the Flores-trained Kindly Fellow was second in the Ed Burke Million Futurity, Carno Vino was third in the Governor’s Cup Futurity, and West Coast Hawk was third in the Los Alamitos Winter Derby.

“We’ve been in every dance, but we haven’t been able to win anything,” he said.

That could change Sunday evening.