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Road to Champion of Champions begins with tonight’s Winter Championship


February 16, 2014     E-mail this page to a friend!

Vodka With Ice sets the third-fastest qualifying time—400 yards in :19.654—in winning his trial on January 26 to the Los Alamitos Winter Championship
(photo by Los Alamitos Race Course)
The first automatic berth to the $750,000 Champion of Champions will be decided tonight in the running of the Grade 1 $156,250 Los Alamitos Winter Championship at 400 yards. First post time for the eight race card is 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time

Fastest qualifier Nellie Delaney heads the field and is joined by 9-year-old veterans Rylees Boy and Vodka With Ice, a pair of runners who look to return to the Champion of Champions after being part of that prestigious race in 2013. Rylees Boy won it 2012 and was second to eventual World Champion Last To Fire last year.

Owned and bred by J. Garvan Kelly and Nancy Yearsley, Nellie Delaney was the only mare among the 21 runners that competed in the Winter Championship trials. Not only did Nellie Delaney qualify, but she did so by winning her trial and with the fastest qualifying time of the evening. Nellie Delaney attempts to become only the second distaffer to win the Winter Championship in the 13-year history of the race. Champion and millionaire Corona Kool is the only mare to win this race when accomplishing the feat in 2002.

The Oklahoma-bred daughter of FDD Dynasty also had the fastest qualifying time to the Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes last February and the top time to the Grade 1 Southern California Derby on December 1. She went on to win the Southern California final following a dead-heated for first with Jabuti Eagle SA on December 22. In the trials, Nellie Delaney edged defending Winter Championship winner Rylees Boy by a head while covering the 400 yards in :19.564. Raul Valenzuela, the meet’s leading Quarter Horse pilot, will be aboard Nellie Delaney for trainer Juan Aleman.

“We talked about running her in the Charger Bar Handicap (on January 5), but we felt it was too close to the Southern California Derby,” trainer Juan Aleman said. “We opted for (the Winter Championship trials) and even though we were facing male horses we still liked her chances. She took on the boys as a 3-year-old and did well against them so we thought she could do well in this race. When she gets out of the gate she is tough. She’s a fighter. She always tries hard. She had a good break in this race.”

Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez’s Rylees Boy looks to become the first horse to ever win back-to-back runnings of the Winter Championship. The 9-year-old gelding by Heza Motor Scooter finished with the second fastest qualifying time after crossing the wire in :19.575 in his 50th lifetime start.

“He had a slow start, but he had a heck of a finish,” trainer Paul Jones said. “One more jump and I think he wins this trial. He ran third in his Winter Championship trial last year and he came back to win the final. He just finished second in this trial so we’ll see if he can do it again.”

Ridden by Saul Ramirez, Jr, Rylees Boy is looking for a third straight trip to the Champion of Champions with a win on Sunday. “He’s 9-years-old now, but we still train him the same way as when he first came to my barn as a 7-year-old,” Jones added.

Rylees Boy is not the only 9-year-old in the Winter Championship final, as Gerardo Prado’s Vodka With Ice posted the third-fastest qualifying time of :19.654 following his victory in the opening trial. Vodka With Ice is trained by Pablo Rabasa, Jr., who is recovering following a training accident last week. The trainer had been all smiles following the Winter Championship trials thanks to another win by Vodka With Ice.

“The old man showed that he can still run,” said the trainer following that victory. “He finished sixth in the Champion of Champions, but that was a tough field. He broke slow in the Champion of Champions and he did a lot better (in the trials).”

Like Rylees Boy, Vodka With Ice has made 50 starts in his career. And like Rylees Boy, the Stoli gelding has competed in many tracks around the country. Vodka With Ice won the Grade 1 Bank of America Challenge Championship on November 9 and ran third in the Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap.

Rosa Barboza’s 2013 Los Alamitos Winter Derby winner Remembering Spence is another one to watch. Remembering Spence looks to become the second runner to win the Winter Derby and Winter Championship in back-to-back years (A Stoli Mate in 2007-08). He also looks to become only the third to sweep the series, joining A Stoli Mate and Whosleavingwho (2001 Winter Derby and 2003 and 2005 Winter Championship). Juan Aleman sends out Remembering Spence and also Los Alamitos Super Derby runner-up Scatmandu in this event.

Howard Nichols’ Jess Being Valiant, who was an impressive trials winner as well, is another top contender in the Winter Championship. Trained by Jaime Gomez, the son of Valiant Hero was razor sharp when winning the A Ransom Handicap on December 20.

Tres Coronas Mas, Valiant Valor, Eye On Corona, and Stel My Corona will also compete in the Winter Championship.

Trials report


Nellie Delaney leads the way to the Los Alamitos Winter Championship

Owned and bred by J. Garvan Kelly and Nancy Yearsley, Nellie Delaney is now a three-time fastest qualifier to a big money event at Los Alamitos after her trial victory on Sunday gave her the fastest time to the Grade 1 $156,250 Los Alamitos Winter Championship.

A total of 21 top older horses competed in the three Winter Championship trials and Nellie Delaney was the only mare in the bunch. But she made the fairer sex proud by posting the fastest qualifying time and will now headline the February 16 final as part of a star-loaded field of 10 horses. Nellie Delaney will look to become only the second distaffer to win the Winter Championship in the 13-year history of the race. Champion and millionaire Corona Kool is the only mare to win this race when accomplishing the feat in 2002. The winner of the Los Alamitos

Ridden by the meet’s leading Quarter Horse jockey Raul Valenzuela for trainer Juan Aleman, Nellie Delaney edged defending Winter Championship winner Rylees Boy by a head while covering the 400 yards in :19.564. The victory was her fourth in 14 lifetime starts and three of those wins have come when she’s topped the charts on a trial night. The Oklahoma-bred daughter of FDD Dynasty had the fastest qualifying time to the Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes last February and also enjoyed the top time to the Grade 1 Southern California Derby on December 1. Her other career win came in the Southern California final when she dead-heated for first with Jabuti Eagle SA on December 22.

“We talked about running her in the Charger Bar Handicap (on January 5), but we felt it was too close to the Southern California Derby,” trainer Juan Aleman said. “We opted for this race and even though we were facing male horses we still liked her chances. She took on the boys as a 3-year-old and did well against them so we thought she could do well in this race. When she gets out of the gate she is tough. She has three wins in a row now. She’s a fighter. She always tries hard. She stumbled a little bit in the Southern California Derby and I think that kept her from winning the race by herself. She had a good break in this race.”

Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez’s Rylees Boy will look to become the first horse to ever win back-to-back runnings of the Winter Championship on Valentine’s Day weekend. The 9-year-old gelding by Heza Motor Scooter finished with the second fastest qualifying time after crossing the wire in :19.575 in his 50th lifetime start.

“He had a slow start, but he had a heck of a finish,” trainer Paul Jones said. “One more jump and I think he wins this trial. He ran third in his Winter Championship trial last year and he came back to win the final. He just finished second in this trial so we’ll see if he can do it again.”

Ridden by Saul Ramirez, Jr, Rylees Boy finished second in last year’s Champion of Champions after winning the Champion of Champions in 2012. A victory in the Winter Championship will earn him a trip to the sport’s most prestigious race for older horses for a third year in a row.

“He’s 9-years-old now, but we still train him the same way as when he first came to my barn as a 7-year-old,” Jones added.

Rylees Boy will not be the only 9-year-old in the Winter Championship final, as Gerardo Prado’s Vodka With Ice posted the third fastest qualifying time of :19.654 following his victory in the opening trial.

“The old man showed that he can still run,” said trainer Pablo Rabasa, Jr. “He finished sixth in the Champion of Champions, but that was a tough field. He broke slow in the Champion of Champions and he did a lot better tonight. I still noticed that he made two mistakes. The main thing is that he qualified and I think he’ll have a good race in the final.”

Like Rylees Boy, Vodka With Ice was making his 50th career starts. And like Rylees Boy, the Stoli gelding has competed in many tracks around the country during his career. Vodka With Ice has enjoyed his time at the Orange County track. In addition to his good showing in the Champion of Champions, he also won the Grade 1 Bank of America Challenge Championship on November 9 and ran third in the Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap.

“He likes it here,” Rabasa said. “I like it here as well. If I had more horses I would stay here. It’s always been a dream of mine to race at Los Alamitos. I have a filly that will race in the Kindergarten Futurity trials plus Vodka With Ice. We’ll see what happens. My goal is to stay here and train.”

Ridden by Ramon Sanchez, Vodka With Ice crossed the wire a neck ahead of Rosa Barboza’s 2013 Los Alamitos Winter Derby winner Remembering Spence. The latter qualified with the fourth fastest qualifying time of :19.699 and will now try to become the second runner to win the Winter Derby and Winter Championship in back-to-back years (A Stoli Mate in 2007-08). He’ll also look to become only the third to sweep the series, joining A Stoli Mate and Whosleavingwho (2001 Winter Derby and 2003 and 2005 Winter Championship). Juan Aleman saddled Remembering Spence, who was ridden by Eduardo Nicasio.

Howard Nichols’ Jess Being Valiant won the final trial of the night after edging R. & R. Gentry and R. Force’s Scatmandu by a neck. Rodrigo Aceves piloted Jess Being Valiant for trainer Jaime Gomez. The son of Valiant Hero came into the trials after winning the A Ransom Handicap on December 20.

The complete list of qualifiers to the Winter Championship is as follows: Nellie Delaney (:19.564), Rylees Boy (:19.575), Vodka With Ice (:19.654), Remembering Spence (:19.699), Tres Coronas Mas (:19.700), Valiant Valor (:19.736), Jess Being Valiant (:19.745), Eye On Corona (:19.750), Scatmandu (:19.782) and Stel My Corona (:19.809).