09/04/2016 8:36PM

Super season for Baltas continues with Free Rose's win in Del Mar Derby

Benoit & Associates
Free Rose, with Norberto Arroyo riding, gives trainer Richard Baltas his 20th win of the meet in the Del Mar Derby.

DEL MAR, Calif.  – There were times, as recently as a decade ago, when addiction issues threatened to keep trainer Richard Baltas from achieving all he wanted out of racing. But he got his act together, has steadily built his barn into one of the powerhouses on the West Coast, and on Sunday celebrated what has been his best Del Mar season yet by taking down the Grade 2, $253,105 Del Mar Derby with Free Rose.

 The win was a personal record 20th of the meet for Baltas, placing him three back of meet leader Phil D’Amato with one day left this season. But having his best summer yet, and likely en route to a career-best year overall, made Baltas grateful as he stood outside the winner’s circle after the race.

 “It’s been a long time coming, a lot of hard work. Now I’m getting the opportunities,” Baltas said. “I love the game. That’s why I’ve stuck with it through the good and bad. It’s a great feeling.”

 Free Rose ($25.80) gave Baltas two major victories this summer. He pulled off a 28-1 upset in the Grade 3 La Jolla on Aug. 6. The Derby drew 14 3-year-olds, and Free Rose was only the eighth choice. As in the La Jolla, Free Rose was on or near the lead throughout, and held safe rivals to prevail.

 With Norberto Arroyo Jr. up, Free Rose sat second behind pacesetter Mr. Roary, advanced to the lead on the far turn, opened a three-length lead at midstretch, and was all out to hold off late runs from Ralis, Dressed in Hermes, and Monster Bea, who were separated by noses just a half-length behind Free Rose.

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 “That was a hell of a move around the turn,” Baltas said. “I was hoping he wasn’t going to get caught, and he didn’t.”

 Lucky Bryan was fifth and was followed, in order, by Blackjackcat, Moonlight Drive, Diplodocus, Ebadan, Trojan Nation, I’malreadythere, Gold Rush Dancer, Arcature, and Mr. Roary.

Free Rose completed 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.70.

 Free Rose, a gelding by Munnings, ran in a $20,000 claiming race at Keeneland in April but since then – once moved to turf – has won three of his last five starts. He is owned by Abbondanza Racing LLC, a locally based partnership overseen by local attorney Bing Bush Jr., which purchased Free Rose privately and sent him to Baltas. He has now won 4 of 11 starts, and the $150,000 he earned Sunday brought his career earnings to $314,760.