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Fastest Qualifier Checker Heads $180K Derby


October 3, 2008     E-mail this page to a friend!

Checker (#7) holds a half-length lead at the wire over Decati to win the $23K Bitterroot Derby on May 24, 2008, at Les Bois Park
(photo by Linda Berntsen, courtesy of Les Bois Park)
by Orlando Gutierrez, Los Alamitos Race Course

Millionaire filly Eye For Corona, graded stakes-winners such as Ancient Ruler, Really A First, and Jess My Moon, and the royally-bred win-machine Masters Call headline a strong cast of 10 3-year-olds in tonight’s $180,000 PCQHRA Breeders’ Derby. However, despite the accolades that some of these highly-regarded sophomores brought into the trials, it was Dutch Masters III and Kelly Spackman’s Checker that ended up grabbing all of the headlines with his smashing one and three-quarter length victory on trial night.

Originally bred here in the Golden State of California by Ed Allred, Checker has enjoyed the majority of his success up to this point in the Intermountain circuit at racetracks like Les Bois Park in Idaho and Dixie Downs in Utah. “Checker really made a name for himself in that part of the country,” said Denny Boer of Dutch Masters III. “He beat Decati twice at Boise earlier this year and he came back to run third in the All American Derby behind Noconi. There have been some really nice horses to come out of this area in the past. For example, years ago Meteoric brought an undefeated record into the All American Futurity in Ruidoso. Nobody could run with him that season.”

A graduate of the Los Alamitos Equine Sale in 2006, Checker was bought with the intent of running him mostly in Boise. “He was purchased for our trainer Lin Melton,” said Boer. “Lin still races most of his horses back home in Idaho, but will occasionally take them to Los Alamitos if they’re good enough to compete. Checker was a horse that we all really liked even as a two-year-old.”

Third in his debut, Checker would go on to break his maiden in his second career out, capturing a 300-yard maiden event at Dixie Downs by over a length. In his next six starts, he managed to qualify to three different futurities, including the Grade II Bitterroot Futurity at Les Bois Park.

Throughout the season, Checker knocked heads with some of Idaho’s finest sprinters. Such talented runners included All American Derby finalist Decati, as well as Gomez Palacio, a winner of six straight races prior to venturing to Los Alamitos Race Course last year. In his first local start, Gomez Palacio was second in the Grade II Juvenile Challenge Championship in November.

Following his demanding racing schedule in the early portion of the year, Checker was eventually shipped to Los Alamitos where he started in the trials to the rich Two Million Futurity. “Even after he had trouble in the race, he still finished with the fourteenth-fastest time to the deuce,” Denny added. “He just missed qualifying to some really big races that year. In fact, we would have run him in the Two Million Juvenile, but he got sick afterwards and we were forced to skip the race. After that happened, we just decided to give him the rest of the year off and await his three-year-old season.”

Checker enjoyed a well-deserved six-month vacation following that impressive season and waited until May 9, 2008 to make his comeback. A narrow winner of his trial by a short neck decision, he returned two weeks later to capture the finals as well, recording an impressive speed figure of 109 in the process. “To defeat a horse like Decati twice in back-to-back starts was a really good feeling,” Denny commented. “It was a terrific way to start out the season.”

Much like in his two-year-old campaign, the decision was once again made to send Checker to Los Alamitos Race Course following his impressive win in the
Bitterroot Derby. “He ran okay in his next three starts, but he just
wasn’t himself,” Denny added. “We weren’t really disappointed in him, but we just thought something might not be right with him or that maybe he was sick. Then in the trials to the PCQHRA Derby he really wowed us.”

Checker led at every call of the sprint that evening, finishing nearly two lengths in front of his nearest competitor, Golden State Futurity winner and millionaire Eye For Corona. Following that dazzling tour de force victory, Checker’s connections are brimming with confidence coming into tonight’s PCQHRA Derby. “I thought his trial race was certainly the best that he had ever run in the state of California,” said Boer. “I would put it up there with the Bitterroot Derby as one of his top two performances ever.”

Although Checker finished the evening with the fastest-qualifying time and has turned in a number of quality efforts in various futurities in Idaho and Utah, the Checker camp is the first to point out what a win in a prestigious Grade II race at Los Alamitos would mean to them. “He was about three-quarters faster than the rest of the finalists on trial night, so I’ve got to think that he’s one of the favorite to win the race,” Danny commented. “With that being said, there are still some really nice horses in there that he’s going to be running against. Kelly Spackman and I just started racing horses together about four or five years ago along with our close and personal friend Lin Melton. So far we’ve had quite a bit of success. A win in the PCQHRA Breeders’ Derby would not only be great for me, but for my new partnership with Kelly too. It’d just be fantastic.”