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Los Alamitos Winter Derby is Friday night

February 17, 2009     E-mail this page to a friend!

Stories by Orlando Gutierrez, Los Alamitos Race Course

Top qualifier looks for a dash of glory

After Ron and Denise VanAmburgh and Giambi Stables’ A Tempting Dash crushed his rivals by 1¾ lengths in a trial to the $200,000 Los Alamitos Winter Derby, Jaime Gomez quickly hustled past the walking ring to welcome back his victorious charge. Gomez was excited about the impressive performance by A Tempting Dash but at the same time he was concerned because of what had happened at the start of the 400-yard race.

“He slipped coming out of the gate and he almost went down,” Gomez said. “It turned out that it wasn’t too bad of a stumble because he ran like a bullet once he recovered, but my biggest worry was that maybe he had cut himself in the process.”

As jockey Alejandro Luna galloped A Tempting Dash towards Gomez, the trainer asked him one question: “How is he?”

Luna nodded his head and smile, providing an answer that made Gomez smile.

“You always worry when you see that type of a stumble,” Gomez later explained. “Sometimes they step on themselves hard. I looked at the horse closely as he was walking to the winner’s circle and he looked great. I’m so happy because the horse has been doing super since the trials. Everything has gone perfectly with this horse.”

The son of First Down Dash qualified with the fastest time of :19.45 in the 400-yard heat, an effort that places him as the morning line second choice at 7-to-2 odds, behind only Fantastic Corona Jr, at 3-to-1, for the $200,000 Los Alamitos Winter Championship final on Friday night, February 20. While the two talented runners are not far apart in the eyes of morning line maker Chris Wade, who is filling in this week for the vacationing Ed Burgart, A Tempting Dash and Fantastic Corona Jr will be at opposite ends in the starting gate on Friday night. A Tempting Dash has drawn post number one, while Fantastic Corona Jr, who races for John Andreini, Vince Genco and Gianni Franco Samaja, will start from post nine of 10.

Gomez likes A Tempting Dash’s post position. “He’s been in the one-hole before and he’s been fine. He ran from post number one in his very first race ever and he also finished second from that spot (on November 6). He likes it. It won’t bother the horse. If he breaks well, he’ll be right there.”

For the VanAmburghs and Jeremy and Naia Giambi, the Winter Derby will be their second taste of a Grade 1 race with the always-improving A Tempting Dash, who also ran in last year’s Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. “The owners are super excited,” Gomez said. “But this will be their second go around together in a Grade 1, so they’re also a little more relaxed.”

Gomez has one other in the Winter Derby in Dutch Masters III’s Cartels First Card. G.R. Carter, who replaces the injured Carlos Huerta, will ride the gelded son of Corona Cartel. Huerta had returned from a neck injury only a week ago but it now looks like he’ll miss five to six months after injuring his left knee in a morning training mishap. “He was galloping a horse that got spooked by another horse. The horse threw Huerta to the ground and then stepped on Carlos’ knee.”

“I was bored out of my mind when I was out for two months,” Huerta said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now that I’m going to be on the shelf for six months.”

Cartels First Card, meanwhile, will enter with two wins from nine starts plus three other runner-up efforts under his belt. Bred by Dutch Masters III, Cartels First Card was fifth in the Grade 1 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity and second to Tres Passes in the Ed Burke Memorial Juvenile last year. He was fifth to Jimmy Delivers in the Winter Derby trials. “He got sleepy in the gate on the night of the trials,” Gomez said. “But he’s capable of pulling off a surprise. Any of the 10 in this race can win it. There are no easy rivals in this race. They’re all quality horses capable of winning if they run their race. I love my horses but they’re going to face some good horses in this race.”

Significant Corona is significantly talented

There’s a certain feeling of excitement that every trainer gets whenever a two-year-old racehorse with either an impeccable pedigree or an expensive price tag joins his or her stable at the start of a new racing season. As far as trainer Jose Flores was concerned, recent Los Alamitos Winter Derby finalist Significant Corona had both qualities upon entering his training program last year. A $95,000 purchase from the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Sale in 2007, he boasted an outstanding pedigree and appeared to have all the makings of a future stakes winner.

“Significant Corona was the kind of horse that showed a lot of promise from the very start based on his pedigree and his reputation,” said the colt’s trainer Jose Flores. “He was regarded by basically everyone that works for me as the best two-year-old in my barn last year. We’ve always thought a lot of him.”

A blue-blooded son of Corona Cartel, he hails from an equally impressive female family, as his mom is the two-time AQHA Champion Significant Speed.

An earner of $517,605 on the racetrack, she captured important races like the Rainbow Derby and Dash For Cash Derby on the way to Champion Three-Year-Old Filly honors in 2000. She went on to race with great success at the age of five as well, taking three stakes races that season and receiving Champion Aged Mare honors in 2002. Moreover, Significant Speed has proven to be quite a nice producer since her retirement. Among her sons and daughters is the six-time winner So Significant, who hit a high note in winning the La Primer Del Ano Derby in 2004. Another one of her daughters impressed on the racetrack last year in Jess Significant. A finalist in the All American Futurity, she won the Grade I Ruidoso Futurity and earned $416,450 in what was a fantastic freshman campaign for the filly.

Although the expectations were high, Significant Corona lived up to all of the hype going into his first start, as he was victorious in his career debut on May 8th by a half-length over maiden competition. Sent off once again as the post-time favorite in his second start, he scored by a neck decision, improving his record to two wins from as many starts. “He had such a big lead early in the race,” commented Flores. “He must have been ahead by a length and a half or so at the start. Then I think he got a little sore in the middle of the race and he started fading before the wire. They almost caught him too, but he held on to win because of his toughness. He’d always had pretty sore shins and they really started to unravel on him in that start. I think if he hadn’t started hurting, that he would have qualified to the finals easily.”

Even with sore shins, the gutsy colt managed to qualify to the Ed Burke Juvenile Stakes, but was never able to compete in the consolation based on the condition of his legs. “Unfortunately he just had some physical setbacks that took him quite a while to get over,” Jose said. “Now that he’s gotten older, I think he’s a much sounder horse. In fact, I think this colt will continue to get better all of the time and may not even be at his absolute best until his four-year-old year. Depending on how he runs back in the finals of this race, we may choose to supplement him to the Southern California Derby trials at the end of the year and focus mainly on him in 2010. He’s a horse that I expect to see a lot of big things from in the future though. He’s also still a colt and might end up making a nice stallion someday.”

Over five months would pass in between Significant Corona’s second and third start, as the Flores team believed that time off would end up being the best medicine for the talented yet fragile two-year-old. “He drilled 350 yards in 17.80 seconds before making his comeback in the trials to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity trials in November, but the odds were still stacked against him,” Jose added. “He had been off for more than five months and we weren’t able to get a start in him before the trials. Plus, he had never raced at the 400-yard distance of the Deuce trials before. Going 400 yards for the first time can be really taxing on a horse. You’ve got to be really fit in order to perform against top competition at that distance and he just wasn’t ready yet.”

Despite Flores’ concerns about the colt’s seasonings, Significant Corona ran fourth in his trial to the Two Million and qualified to the Los Alamitos Two Million Juvenile Stakes. “He had a pretty bad trip in that race too,” explained Flores. “He broke okay, but was bumped on both sides. He’s a stocky horse, but he’s not very big, so when he got banged around pretty good like that he sort of got thrown off track.”

Now a three-year-old, Flores believes the lightly started colt will continue to blossom with each and every race. “Five starts isn’t very many for a three-year-old,” said Jose. “I think he will just keep getting better with more and more age. I’ve already witnessed him change a lot just from last year to this year. He’s real strong and mentally centered right now.
He’s also been training really great since qualifying to the Winter Derby too, so I’m expecting a big race from him this week in the finals.”

Jr ready to shine in Winter Derby

Three sprinters that competed in the 2008 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity will share the starting gate once again, this time in the first Grade 1 derby of the racing season at the Orange County oval the $200,000 Los Alamitos Winter Derby this Friday, February 20. First post time is 7:15 p.m. The Winter Derby is scheduled for 10:27 p.m.

The “Deuce” graduates that are set to face off in the Winter Derby are A Tempting Dash, this races’ fastest qualifying time, the prodigious Fantastic Corona Jr and rising star Suger Mama. Of the three, Fantastic Corona Jr arrives with the most sparkling resume, as he ran in the Ed Burke Million Futurity in addition to having the fastest qualifying time to the Two Million. The colt by Corona Cartel did find a Grade 1 victory elusive last year, but that could all change if he runs his best race on Friday night.

“This is a very important race for (Fantastic Corona Jr),” said his trainer Paul Jones. “We’re hoping to get him a Grade 1 win after seeing him post the fastest times to those races.”

Los Alamitos has been hit with some steady rain in the past few days that has altered some of the training plans for the horses in the Winter Derby according to the champion trainer. “(Trainers) don’t like the rain. It makes things difficult. Everybody loses a little bit of time training-wise Fortunately, Fantastic Corona Jr is fit and ready to go. He is strong and healthy and should run his race.”

Jones will also saddle Hes Regal, the third place finisher in last year’s Kindergarten Futurity and an impressive winner here earlier this year. “(In the trials) he didn’t run like I thought he would run. He still ran a good race. We need a good start from him in the final.”

Ron and Denise VanAmburgh’s and Giambi Stables’ A Tempting Dash has drawn the rail in the Winter Derby final following his tremendous 1 3/4 length victory in the trials on January 30. The gelded son of First Down Dash enters the final after posting the fastest qualifying time by 6/100ths of a second over second fastest qualifier Jimmy Delivers.

Heart the key to Downrodeo’s success

In the business of horse racing oftentimes owners, trainers, and jockeys will describe a horse’s aptitude or performance by citing a certain intangible called “heart.” While such a quality may appear foreign or illusory to some, others in the business simply know it when they see it. Such is the case with recent Los Alamitos Winter Derby finalist Downrodeo.

“Even before the horse came to my barn, I was already familiar with him because of how well he’d run last year,” commented the colt’s trainer Danny Montes. “I didn’t have him at the time, but I knew that he’d only had one off the board finish in his career and to me that meant that he had a lot of heart. I’d seen him run in person too and he always seemed to try so hard. I think he’s got a lot of talent.”

Downrodeo’s owner Juan Alamillo is also quick to point out such a quality. “In his last race he was bumped twice after the start and lost at least a length early on in the race,” said Alamillo. “He still didn’t let that stop him though. I think that’s one of the reasons why Danny (Montes) was so excited to have him in his barn. He knew the horse had a lot of ability and spirit even before he had the chance to train him.”

A three-year-old colt by Make It Anywhere out of the Saloon Tune mare Mighty Fast Tune, Downrodeo has performed well since the very first start of his career. “If you look at the second start he ever made, you can see that he beat a horse named Jess Is Gorgeous by over a length,” Juan mentioned. “That horse came back to qualify to the Two Million Futurity later in the year, so I think even early on in his career he showed a lot of talent.”

Two starts later, Downrodeo would find himself competing against stakes company in the Golden State Juvenile, a race he ran second in behind Louisiana Senator at odds of 17-to-1. Despite the fact that he encountered first-rate competition in that race, he would go onto face an even tougher field in his trial to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, knocking heads with a pair of Grade I winners. “Having to go up against horses like Tres Passes and Sixish was a pretty big challenge,” added Alamillo. “He had some problems in that race too and still finished fourth, so I was proud of him.”

Prior to his next start in last weekend’s trials to the Los Alamitos Winter Derby, Downrodeo enjoyed a two-month layoff before the start of his 2009 campaign. “I have a swimming pool at my ranch and it’s always been a pretty big part of my training program,” said Montes. “When I first got the horse I think he was pretty sore in the shins and the swimming really seemed to take some of the pounding off of him. Having those two months off helped him out too. I think we’ve got him performing well right now.”

A native of California, Juan Alamillo has only been racing horses for two years now, making him a relative newcomer to the sport. “This is the only horse that I have stabled on the grounds at Los Alamitos right now,” said Alamillo. “I still remember going out to Francisco Gonsalez’s place and picking out Downrodeo from a group of about fifty horses. I guess I just had the eye for him that day and made a good choice. I’ve been thrilled with how he’s run so far though. This is the first horse I’ve ever had that’s qualified to a Grade I stakes race, which is a great feeling. I think everyone will be talking about Fantastic Corona Jr in the finals because of his record, but they ought to be talking about my horse too. I think he could end up surprising a lot of people.”

Trials Report: A Tempting Dash shakes off stumble to post fastest qualifying time

Ron and Denise Van Amburgh and Giambi Stable’s A Tempting Dash ran the race of his life, quickly recovering from a stumble at the start, to blow away seven rivals on the way to the fastest qualifying time to the Grade 1 $200,000 Los Alamitos Winter Derby on Friday.

Leaving the gate from post four and making his first start since finishing fifth in the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, A Tempting Dash took the lead a couple of strides after the start, an impressive performance considering that he nearly fell down at the start. The son of First Down Dash was beauty and grace during the final 220 yards of the race, coming home in a great fractional time of :09.34 while stopping the clock in :19.41.

“He almost fell right when the gates opened but I tried my best not to move a muscle,” said winning jockey Alejandro Luna. “If I move then I make it worst for the horse. All I wanted to do was letting him recover his stride on his own. He did exactly that and then he took off.”

Luna’s excellent job aboard A Tempting Dash is only the latest example of why he has become one of the best pilots at Los Alamitos. The experienced rider has also become a big money jockey in the last few years, having piloted Jess You And I to Champion of Champions glory a little more than 1½ months ago and also winning with the likes of champion Carters Cartel and also the Kindergarten Futurity with Vachetta.

While Luna was chilly on the saddle in the Winter Derby trials, A Tempting Dash set the racetrack on fire with his sizzling performance. “He’s a running son of a gun,” said Gomez, giving the Muller Racing LLC-bred sprinter his patented and highest compliment. “He fell down but not too hard, but if he doesn’t trip he wins this race by three lengths. He fell in the Two Million and he still ran a good race against some great horses in that race. He had a little cut after the Two Million - about an inch or two long. I was worried when he fell that maybe he cut himself again but I looked at him when he came after the race and he appears to be okay. This horse is really coming into his own.”

Things couldn’t be better or more exciting for the partnership of the VanAmburghs and former major league baseball player Jeremy Giambi and his wife, Naia. Jeremy was the only one not in the attendance to watch A Tempting Dash’s victory, as he had to stay home to supervise the construction of a horse barn at the couple’s ranch. It was left to Naia to give her husband an inch-by-inch description of their horse’s annihilating victory.

“Jeremy is really becoming quite a horseman,” Naia said. ‘We’re excited because we just welcomed our first FDD Dynasty baby and we’re so excited about that,” she added. “He was born on January 23 at 700 p.m.”

“He’s out of a mare named Down With Secrets and you should see this mare,” Denise VanAmburgh said. “She’s the biggest mare at the ranch.”

The partners also have a two Wave Carver babies set to arrive in the future, plus they recently purchased a full sister to A Tempting Dash at the Schvaneveldt Winter Sale for $29,000. “She’s a yearling right now and her name is A First Down Chick,” Denise added. “We really have to thank Dr. Steve Burns because he stopped bidding so that we could have her.”

A Tempting Dash is one of two Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity finalist to qualify to the February 20th Winter Derby. Fantastic Corona Jr, who ran third in the “Deuce”, won the first of three trials and qualified with the sixth fastest time of :19.70. Gustavo De La Torre’s Suger Mama, fourth in the “Deuce” finished second by 1¾ lengths to A Tempting Dash in this trial but was the fifth fastest qualifier in :19.66. The complete list of qualifiers is as follows: A Tempting Dash (:19.41), Jimmy Delivers (:19.47), BF Regal Rage (:19.485), Significant Corona (:19.555), Suger Mama (:19.66), Fantastic Corona Jr (:19.70), Hes Regal (:19.74), Cartels First Card (:19.75), Hawkish Got Rhythm (:19.75) and Downrodeo (:19.81).

Jimmy Delivers ran tremendously to edge BF Regal Rage to win the second trial. The son of Corona Czech finished second in last year’s Governor’s Cup Futurity and most recently finished third in the Corona Chick Handicap at 400 yards.

“Jimmy Delivers is a half brother to (PCQHRA champion aged mare) Clydette Mia, so a lot of the credit has to go to their Thoroughbred mother Clydette,” said Enrique Gonzalez, the owner of EG High Desert Farms. “I love to cross Thoroughbred mares with Quarter Horse stallions because when it turns out right, it really works. We’ve been lucky in that Clydette has been able to cross to everything. We’ll have to try her next with Hawkish. I bought for very little money from Gilberto Hernandez back when she was still running. It just goes to show you how it’s all luck sometimes.

“I have a lot of stallions but not a lot of mares,” he added. “I only have about 40 of them, which is not a lot when you have (six) stallions. I try to make good decisions on which mares to cross with which horse and sometimes we get lucky and it works. Most of the time it’s all about the strength of the pedigree. It’s all about the great blood of these horses and trying to get the most out of that, that’s what’s fun about breeding horses.”

Carlos Bautista piloted the 11-to-1 longshot Jimmy Delivers for trainer Mario Loza.

Gianni Samaja, John Andreini and Vince Genco’s Fantastic Corona Jr has been in huge Grade 1 races before, however he’ll enter this Grade 1 race under different circumstances. Unlike the Ed Burke Million Futurity and Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, Fantastic Corona Jr will not be the fastest qualifier to the Winter Derby, which is just fine for his connections. “He’s been first in the trials but not in the final,” Andreini said earlier this week. “If we can be second or third in the trials, I’ll be happy with that as long as we finish first in the final.”

“The key is to get in,” said PCQHRA champion trainer Paul Jones. “We backed off a little bit training him after the Los Alamitos Two Million and gave him a little rest. We were always aiming for this race. It’s nice to aim for a specific race, especially when you know that you will be running on a specific date. It makes training these horses a little easier. We knew that he was going to run on this night, so we tailored his training with this date in mind. It’s just makes it a little bit easier.”

Ramon Sanchez rode Fantastic Corona Jr., who improved his record to four wins from seven starts. In addition to running third in the Los Alamitos Two Million, the colt by Corona Cartel was fifth in last year’s Ed Burke Million Futurity.

The Winter Derby field will represent the following stallions: Corona Cartel (Fantastic Corona Jr, Cartels First Card and Significant Corona), A Regal Choice (BF Regal Rage and Hes Regal), Corona Czech (Jimmy Delivers), Make It Anywhere (Downrodeo), First Down Dash (A Tempting Dash), Hawkish (Hawkish Got Rhythm) and Corona Cocktail (Suger Mama).