Shane O’Leary’s Deniro (left) had a successful season debut, as he posted the fastest qualifying time to the Grade 1 $167,900 Vessels Maturity on Sunday at Los Alamitos.
Making his first start since running fifth in the 2012 Champion of Champions on December 15, Deniro posted a ¾ length victory over Los Alamitos Winter Championship runner-up Bills Last in the first of two Vessels Maturity trials. Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio for trainer Jose De La Torre, Deniro covered the 400 yards in :19.465 – 8/1000ths of a second faster than the other trial winner Last To Fire. Deniro was picking up his first victory since winning last year’s Grade 1 $948,000 Los Alamitos Super Derby on November 3.
“He had a couple of surgeries after the Champion of Champions,” De La Torre said. “He had throat surgery and ankle surgery. We went swimming for a while and then we brought him back to training. We had tight training schedule with him and everything had to go right. We almost didn’t make it.”
Deniro broke nicely from post number one in his trial and he was able to stay ahead of Paul Blanchard’s Bills Last, who ran nicely from post two. Sent off at odds of 3-5, the Desirio gelding went on to pick up sixth win in 14 career starts.
“He was nice in the gate,” Nicasio said. “He broke great and I didn’t have to push him much.”
Deniro will now look to earn a return trip to the Champion of Champions, as the Vessels Maturity awards its winner an automatic starting berth to the prestigious $750,000 Grade 1 race. The Vessels Maturity will be held on Sunday, July 7.
Jesus Avila and Jesus Cuevas’ Last To Fire won the other Vessels Maturity trial by an impressive 1 ¼ length margin over talented local newcomer Jess Featureme Quick. Also ridden by Nicasio and saddled by De La Torre, Last To Fire stopped the clock in :19.473 while picking up his fifth win in 16 career starts. Last To Fire has competed a slew of Grade 1 races in his career and while he’s still searching for his first major victory, his record includes a second place finish in the 2011 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity and a third in last year’s Grade 1 Southern California Derby. His resume also includes appearances in the Golden State Derby and Golden State Million Futurity, Los Alamitos Super Derby and most recently a fourth place finish in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship.
“We’ve been close to winning some big finals, but a few little things have kept us from doing so,” Avila said. “I loved the way he ran tonight. He looked beautiful out there. He’ll have three weeks to get ready for the final and we’re excited to be in a final again with Last To Fire.”
“He’s always been a professional horse,” said Avila’s son, Jose. “He’s always calm in the paddock and is an easy going horse.”
Last To Fire will also be the richest horse in the Vessels Maturity final. The son of Walk Thru Fire earned $4,400 for winning the trial and now has lifetime earnings of $592,067.
Bills Last, who finished third in the Kaweah Bar Handicap in his previous start, finished with the third fastest time of :19.621. Paul Jones saddled the son of Shazoom, who was ridden by Ramon Sanchez. Jones and Sanchez also teamed up with Melissa Miller’s Jess Featureme Quick, who posted the fourth fastest time after running second to Last To Fire. The son of Feature Mr Jess covered the distance in :19.683. Jess Featureme Quick and Bills Last both competed in last year’s All American Derby, finishing third and fifth, respectively. Jess Featureme Quick won the Hobbs America Derby last year, finished second in The Championship at Sunland Park and was third in the Zia Park Championship.
Gerardo Pasquel’s PK Fire finished with the fifth fastest time of :19.769 after running third to Last To Fire in the trials. The son of Walk Thru Fire entered the race after winning the Kaweah Bar. Edward and Theresa DeNike’s Hit It Big had the sixth fastest time of :19.815 after finishing third to Deniro.
“He ran a pretty good race,” said trainer Patricia Visscher. “In his last start, he was sitting nice and quiet, but then he (almost) fell down at the break. Two races ago, he didn’t break that great and then other horses got on top of him. He has a lot of front end to him so we sat him back in the gate tonight. Once he got going, (jockey Oscar Peinado) did a great job riding him. I’m thrill to see Hit It Big in the final.”
The complete list of qualifiers to the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity is as follows: Deniro (:19.465), Last To Fire (:19.473), Bills Last (:19.621), Jess Featureme Quick (:19.683), PK Fire (:19.769), Hit It Big (:19.815), Gone With A Win (:19.829). Queens R Blue (:19.868), Chicks Boudro (:19.906) and Perfect Place (:19.906).
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