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Classy field of mares sees action tonight in Merial California Challenge; Bayer Legend and B of A Challenge races also on tap this weekend

August 21, 2009     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Orlando Gutierrez, Los Alamitos Race Course

A slew of stakes winners, including a pair of Grade 1 heroines, will come together to highlight a powerful field to the $28,600 Merial California Distaff Challenge tonight at Los Alamitos. The winner of the Merial will receive an automatic berth to the Grade 1 $200,000 Merial Racing Challenge Distaff Championship on October 31 at Los Alamitos, as the California region representative.

To most of the ladies in this field, competing in a grade race is a familiar challenge. In fact, the talented Stylish Jess Br defeated older mares when winning last year's Grade 1 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap as a 3-year-old. Owned by Benny Rossett, Stylish Jess Br was also second in a pair of Grade 1 derbies in 2008, finishing behind the champion 3-year-old colt One Famous Eagle in both the Golden State Derby and Los Alamitos Super Derby.

The super mare has continued to take on males this year, going head to head with the boys in both the Los Alamitos Winter Championship and Vessels Maturity. A finalist to last year's prestigious Champion of Champions and a lifetime winner of $551,329, Stylish Jess Br will be facing a field made up strictly of distaffers for the first time since Millie Vessels night. Jockey Cesar De Alba will ride her for the first time for trainer Paul Jones.

Parsons Family Trust's Terrific Energy is the other major Grade 1 winner in the field, with her victory coming in the Charger Bar Handicap for older mares back on January 3. The daughter of Mr Jess Perry has not raced since the Charger Bar, but she's been training at a high level as proven by her super 350 yard drill in :17.70 on July 21.

Three Green Leaves, winner of the Grade 2 Ford Juvenile Challenge back in 2007, will look to return to Challenge glory with a victory in this race, while Shescheckinumout, winner of the Grade 3 La Pacifica Handicap, and overnight handicap winner Shelbys Surprise join Three Green Leaves as three other horses trained by Paul Jones in this race.

Loved Her First, a finalist in the 2008 Kindergarten Futurity, will be looking to emulate Stylish Jess Br's accomplishments from last year, as she is the only 3-year-old in this field. This Seis Can Race, who competed in the Grade 1 La Primera Del Ano Derby in 2007 and the Grade 2 Las Damas Handicap in 2008, will also be in action in the Merial California. Dimples First Dash, a mare with ton of stakes experience, and Jess Another Chick, who has only competed in maiden races until now, will complete the field.

Bayer Legend should be a tight affair

The top three qualifiers to the Bayer Legend California final were only separated by 5/100ths of a second, meaning that a hotly contested final is to be expected on Sunday night.

Robert Williams' fastest qualifier Deep Creek Bobbie covered the 400-yard distance in :19.555 while third place finisher Varsity Jazz, owned by Allred, Skeen and Knight, won his trial in :19.605. Skeen has enjoyed good success in the Bayer Legend before. In fact, he saddled last year's winner Catchinon for Mesa Valley Farms. Varsity Jazz is certainly a Californian through and through, as Vessels Stallion Farm of Bonsall bred him, and his sire is the outstanding Bono Jazz, who up until a month ago stood at the late Spencer Childers' ranch in Fresno.

Trainer Brent Bowman, a fixture in the Intermountain circuit for over 10 years, is starting to make an impact at Los Alamitos. Bowman picked up his first training win at the Orange County oval last weekend and in Billingsley Creek Ranch's BCR Strawflyin Doll he will saddling his first stakes runner at Los Alamitos in the Bayer Legend California final. Stakes winner Hope To See You Zoom and the always-game Saving Faith also figure to put up a good fight in this race.

Jones has strong quartet ready for Bank of America final

An array of stars from the tremendous barn of trainer Paul Jones will headline Saturday's running of the Bank of America California Challenge at Los Alamitos Race Course. Ten outstanding older horses will be in action in the 440-yard race, with the winner not only earnings first place money, but also a spot alongside Little Bit Of Baja and First Moonflash in the Grade 1 $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship to be held here on October 31.

Jones, who won this race last year with champion Leading Spirit, will saddle four horses in this year's California final. Trisk, a full brother to World Champion Wave Carver and champion Millionaire Ocean Runaway, will head his quartet. Trisk handled the quarter mile distance well when running second in the trials two weeks ago and he should be mighty tough in his third start back at Los Alamitos after racing at Remington Park. Jones will also saddle Strength In Numbers, who had a slow start in her trial but was full of run during the second half of her race to qualify. Benny Rosset's Strength In Numbers' biggest win to date came in the 440-yard Los Alamitos Invitational Championship, so she is certainly capable of a big performance at this distance.

Masters Call has what it takes to shine at 440 yards, so it will be interesting to see if he can put it all together in this race after a modest performance on trial night. If Masters Call can leave sharply from the gate, there's no telling how well he could finish the race. Jones' quartet will be completed by Bannow Bay, who was third in the Grade 1 Remington Park Championship earlier this year. The fastest qualifier to this race is Stoli Powered, while Fighter On Fire was a solid trial winner and always a contender to any major stakes race.