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Southern California Derby, retirements highlight final night of meeting

December 19, 2015     E-mail this page to a friend!

After running second to the outstanding Heza Dasha Fire in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby and then winning her trial to the Southern California Derby, Sass Me Blue will look to score the biggest win of her career when she headlines a solid field of 3-year-olds in the Grade 2 $134,150 Southern California Derby on Sunday at Los Alamitos.

Trained by Mike Casselman for Lucky Seven Ranch LLC, Sass Me Blue's season has also included a third place finish to the brilliant Heza Dasha Fire in the Grade 2 Golden State Derby. The filly also won three of four starts during her 2-year-old campaign.

"She came in to my barn before the trials to the Golden State Derby in August before Cody Joiner stopped training," Casselman said. "She's settled nicely into our barn."

Cody Jensen will ride the filly by Valiant Hero. She'll look to become the second Valiant Hero to score a big win at Los Alamitos in as many weekends. Valiant Hero is the sire of last week's Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity winner Ima Fearless Hero. Sass Me Blue will start from post number eight.

Double Bar S Ranch's Jess Cuz has enjoyed a tremendous sophomore campaign with runner-up effort to Quirky in the Grade1 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap and to Heza Dasha Fire in the Golden State. She posted a hard-fought derby trial win after holding off Old Six Six and Bac In Front. Elena Andrade will saddle the Mr Jess Perry from post three. Alejandro Luna will ride.

Jaime Gomez will look to complete a strong season for his barn when he saddles derby winners Forget It and Bac In Front in this race. Racing for Dutch Masters III and Gomez, Forget It won the El Primero Del Ano and Governor's Cup derbies, while Bac In Front won the La Primera Del Ano and the PCQHRA Breeders derbies. This will be the fourth derby final that they'll each run in this season. Old Six Six, Walk Around Blues, Weownthenite, Walk The Catwalk, The Perfect Love, and Fiery Kimbo will complete the field.

Racing Secretary Ron Church to retire on closing night

Thirty years after first taking the position of racing secretary at Los Alamitos, Ron Church will retire from the racing office at the Orange County track following Sunday's closing night program of the 2015 meet.

"Churchie" has been producing racing cards at Los Alamitos since 1985, following up a similar position at Pompano Park in Florida. Church also spent time as a jockey's agent, and began as an entry clerk in the racing office before advancing to racing secretary.

"I came out in the mid-1970s and I was Jim Dreyer's agent," he said. "I also worked for Donald Allison and Danny Mitchell. Dreyer then recommended me to Curly Smith for a position in the racing office. That's how I got my foot in the door. I worked in the racing office and learned a lot from Curly.

"Years later I was clocking horses at Bay Meadows one morning and Frank ‘Scoop’ Vessels and Dennis Moore came walking by. We talked for a while and they mentioned how they were going to need a racing secretary. By the time they walked away I think they had hired me. Millie Vessels called me a few mornings later to make my hiring official.”

For the past 15 years, Church has been one of the busiest racing secretaries in the state, carding anywhere between 200 to 150 program per year. He wrote the conditions that differentiate every race that runs at Los Alamitos and a great working relationship with trainers and owners alike.

"My major concern was always to give the horses an opportunity to run," he said. "Our goal was always to put together the best racing program possible for our loyal patrons.

"I worked with some great people and horsemen over the years. Pete Wood, Sheila Hart, and Scott Craigmyle come to mind and surely my present staff led by Ed Reese and so many other dedicated employees. I also owe a lot to Jimmy Dreyer. I worked for him when he was riding and he helped me when I first got hired here. Of course, I have to thank Dr. Ed Allred for everything he's done for this industry and his continued support of our Quarter Horse racing program. It's been great working at Los Alamitos and I've had a lot of fun. Time really flew. I can't believe it's been 30 years, but it really has been fun."

Church, along with his wife Debra, will vacation in Hawaii in January. He plans to do a lot of traveling and will continue to strive to lower his golf handicap. Church will stay in touch in racing at Los Alamitos. He has been retained by the track as consultant to interim racing secretary, Ed Reese.

CHRB Steward George Slender to retire on closing night

George Slender, an ever present racing steward in the California racing circuit for over four decades, will retire with Sunday’s closing night of the 2015 Los Alamitos and Quarter Horse meet.

An ROAP-accredited steward with the California Horse Racing Board, Slender over the last 43 years has officiated at every track in California, working Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and all-breeds fair race meets. From 1959 to 1972, Slender, a former horse trainer, held positions as placing judge, paddock judge, horse identifier and starter.

Slender comes from a horse-racing family. His father trained horses in Northern California for 30 years. His brother, Tucker, was the official starter at Santa Anita Park until his retirement, and now Tucker's son, Jay, is the starter in Arcadia and Del Mar.

While attending high school in Santa Rosa, George Slender worked with his father around the barn on weekends and summer vacations, but his interests turned to baseball, football, and basketball in college. He signed a baseball contract and played minor league ball until he was drafted into the Army. After his discharge in 1958, he returned to the racetrack to train horses and work on the starting gate. In 1968 he became a junior official at Quarter Horse meets, then he was elevated to steward in 1972. He was recently inducted into the Santa Rosa Junior College Sports Hall of Fame.

"Stewards wear many hats and sometimes make difficult decisions," explained Slender. "To be a good steward, integrity comes first, above and beyond anything else."

Earlier this month, Slender was recognized by the Racing Officials Accreditation Program as one of five winners of the 2015 Pete Pedersen Award, presented annually to stewards who have made important contributions to the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industries.

Pedersen, for whom the award is named, worked as a steward in California for 50 years before retiring at the age of 85 in 2005.

Slender was also recognized with a resolution in his honor at the December CHRB Board meeting held at Los Alamitos Race Course. Slender was presented with a recognition plaque by CHRB Chairman Charles Winner.

From the California Horse Racing Board:
Resolution for George Slender 
WHEREAS, George Slender is retiring after working 57 years
in the California horse racing industry; and
WHEREAS, George has spent the last 43 years serving the
industry and the people of California as a steward with the
California Horse Racing Board; and
WHEREAS, George developed a strong work ethic, initially as
a young boy working with his father around the barn on
weekends and summer vacations, later in team sports, and
later still while serving in the United States Army - a work
ethic that has distinguished his public service; and
WHEREAS, George has been a blue collar-type steward,
interacting with licensees, colleagues and others at a
comfortable level, placing everyone at ease with his reasonable
and common-sense ways; and
WHEREAS, George has made sometimes difficult decisions with
the confidence of someone who completely understands each
situation and applies the rules in the fairest possible way;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the California Horse
Racing Board expresses its deep appreciation for his great
contributions to the State of California and joins with many
others in wishing George and his wife, Verna, great happiness
in retirement.

—Adopted unanimously by the California Horse Racing Board on November 19, 2015.