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A star-laden field to race in $750K Champion of Champions on Saturday night


December 12, 2013     E-mail this page to a friend!

One of the greatest fields in the 42-year history of the prestigious Grade 1 Champion of Champions will enter the gate in Saturday’s ninth race at Los Alamitos. At stake is $375,000 for the winner of the race and for just about every single horse running, a win would also clinch an AQHA champion title of some type.

First post time on Saturday is 6:00 p.m. (Pacific time) with the Champion of Champions slated to run as the ninth race at 9:12 p.m.

One of the top storylines in the Champion of Champions is J Bar 7 Ranch, Katsy and Monte Cluck and Doug Benson’s Ochoa, as he’ll look to become Quarter Horse racing’s first ever $3 million winner. Already the sport’s all-time leader in money earned with $2,762,615 in his bankroll, the Sleepy Gilbreath-trained sprinter starts from post number two, right alongside top contender and multiple Grade 1 winner Last To Fire. For Gilbreath’s assistant trainer James Lackey, it’s the rivals that Ochoa is facing, and not the post position, that is the bigger concern.

“The number two post is just a number, “ said Lackey after taking the only post position available at Wednesday’s post position selection show. “This horse is a professional and he’ll have to beat nine outstanding horses to win the race.”

Jockey Roy Baldillez was not too concerned about riding Ochoa from the second post.

“This horse is such a powerful horse,” he said. “He’ll be coming strong at the end. Ochoa is not a slow breaker. It just takes him a little bit to get going.”

Racing for Jesus Avila and Jesus Cuevas, Last To Fire has been outstanding in his last two Grade 1 winning races. The son of Walk Thru Fire ran away victorious by 1¾ lengths in the Go Man Go Handicap on September 15 and before that he was a half-length winner in the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity Handicap on July 7. His connections did not hesitate to take the number one spot when it was still available during the post position selection show.

“It’s a little bit more pressure with Ochoa right next to us,” admitted Last To Fire’s jockey Eduardo Nicasio, who is a two-time winner of the Champion of Champions. “But it’s okay. I won the Champion of Champions from post number one with Apollitical Jess. I like the rail.”

Trained by Jose De La Torre, Last To Fire enters riding a three-race win streak. He also won his Vessels Maturity trial by 1¼ lengths and was a ¾-length winner in his Los Alamitos Winter Championship trial in late January. His only loss of the season is a fourth place finish to the defending Champion of Champions winner Rylees Boy in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship.

Racing for Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez, Rylees Boy looks for back-to-back victories in the Champion of Champions. His connections were thrilled when they were able to take for him post number 10 with the sixth selection. It was from this spot last year that the then 7-year-old Rylees Boy became the oldest horse to ever win the Champion of Champions. The 8-year-old gelding will look to break that record on Saturday night. Saul Ramirez Jr. gets the mount aboard Rylees Boy.

Jones also saddles the nation’s top aged mare, Check N Fetch, in the Champion of Champions. Also owned by Velazquez Rodriguez, Check N Fetch has the most starts among the horses in this race with 10 outings and the most stakes wins with five this season. She’s a two-time Grade 1 stakes winner in 2013. Cody Jensen rides Check N Fetch.

There are two fillies racing in the Champion of Champions and one of them, Balgon Racing Team and Marlyn Gonzalez’s Matabari, could make Los Alamitos history with a victory on Saturday night. Trained by Guillermo Morales, Matabari looks to become the first Quarter Horse to ever win the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, Los Alamitos Super Derby, and the Champion of Champions. The daughter Mr Jess Perry had the first selection of post positions on Wednesday and Morales went for spot number nine. Matabari won the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity from post number eight last year. Ramon Sanchez, who qualified four horses to the Champion of Champions, opted to stay aboad Matabari. He piloted her to victory in the Super Derby earlier this year. Sanchez also qualified Rylees Boy, Check N Fetch and Significant Heart.

Abigail Kawananakoa’s Significant Heart is the other sophomore filly in this field. The daughter of Corona Cartel is also one of the sharpest horses in the field having won five of six starts this year, including beating older male foes in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on November 23. Cruz Mendez, the meet’s leading Quarter Horse rider, will pilot Significant Heart for trainer Paul Jones.

Trainer Eddie Willis saddles two outstanding Grade 1 winners in the Champion of Champions in the form of Reliance Ranches LLC’s Feature Hero and Ed Melzer’s Priceless Feature. A gelded son of Valiant Hero, Feature Hero won the sport’s richest race ever on September 1 when he took the $2.8 million All American Derby at Ruidoso Downs. To be ridden by Jay Conklin from post six, Feature Hero was third in the Town Policy Handicap in his Los Alamitos debut on November 1 and should benefit greatly from having a local start. Jimmy Dean Brooks, who rode Feature Hero in the All American, pilots Priceless Feature from post number eight. The gelding by Feature Mr Jess won the Remington Park Championship over Ochoa earlier this year, but he was sixth to Ochoa in the Los Alamitos Championship earlier this season.

Trained by Pablo Rabasa Jr. for owner Gerardo Prado, Vodka With Ice will try to become the second straight Bank of America Challenge Championship winner to win the Champion of Champions following Rylees Boy last year. He’ll also look to become oldest horse to ever win this race. The 8-year-old Vodka With Ice, is an experienced runner of 48 career starts and he starts from post number four. His connections selected this post immediately after Matabari’s connections picked post number seven with the first selection. Vodka With Ice is tied with Rylees Boy for the most career starts among the horses in this race.

Johnny Trotter’s Hez Our Secret completes the field from post number three—a great starting spot for the son of First Down Dash, as his connections were hoping to draw one of the inside post positions. When it came time to select Hez Our Secret’s post, assistant trainer Paul Leal had his choice of posts 1, 2 or 3.

“We are so happy with his post position,” said Leal, who assists trainer Trey Wood.

Hez Our Secret is the only horse in this field other than Rylees Boy with previous Champion of Champions experience. He finished fourth in last year’s running - an effort that helped him earn the title of champion 3-year-old colt. Ricky Ramirez Jr. rides Hez Our Secret.