On a night in which Abigail Kawananakoa’s Significant Heart (left) earned a berth to the Champion of Champions for the second year in a row after winning the Grade 1 $150,000 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap, all thoughts were on jockey Cody Jensen and Kawananakoa’s Grade 2 winner Native Tea Rose after the two hit the ground shortly after the start of the 400-yard Mildred Vessels.
Native Tea Rose appeared to break sharply from post number five, but went down with the 2014 AQHA champion jockey just a few strides into the race. The winner of this year’s Grade 2 Charger Bar Handicap, Native Tea Rose was euthanized after suffering a spinal injury based on the evaluation of track veterinarian Becky Fitzgerald, DVM. Jensen, who remained conscious and alert, was taken to Los Alamitos Medical Center with a shoulder injury according to several reports.
“It looks like Native Tea Rose broke her back,” said Paul Jones, who trained the 2012 All American Futurity finalist as well as the multiple stakes winner Significant Heart for Kawananakoa. “You can’t prepare for something like that. It was a freak accident. I was at my usual spot watching the race when I saw Native Tea Rose go down. It looked like we had won it with Significant Heart, but the race was a blur. I couldn’t concentrate on it. I just jumped in my golf cart and went to the back to see how Cody and Native Tea Rose were doing.
“(Kawananakoa) is in Hawaii, but she saw it happen because she was watching the race on TV,” Jones explained. “She knew that we had to (euthanize) her. She was just hoping that Cody was okay. We tried to make sure that it was a valid reason to euthanize her. If there was any chance that we could save her we would have done it. Abigail cares about these horses so much and she always wants to do what is best for them. Unfortunately this is what was best for this horse.”
Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio, Significant Heart defeated the Jones-trained Check N Fetch by a neck in a time of :19.612. Bred by La Feliz Montana Ranch LLC, the daughter of Corona Cartel was picking up her second victory in six starts this year. She won the Miss Princess Handicap on May 11 and in her last start she was sixth when facing the opposite sex in the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity with Jensen in the irons. Significant Heart earned a berth to last year’s Champion of Champions after winning the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trial. Nicasio had previously piloted her to victory in the PCQHRA Breeders Derby.
“This is a bittersweet moment,” Jones continued. “Significant Heart won this race for Abigail and half of me wants to be happy, but I’m extremely sad about the loss of Native Tea Rose. I’m just glad that Cody is okay. When I ran to check on him, the first thing he said to me while he was still on the ground was that she broke so good and that we were going to win it. I had to ask him again how he was feeling. Cody has had a lot of injuries and he’s been through so much in his career, but he’s one of the toughest jockeys I’ve ever met.”
Significant Heart, who was sent off at odds of 20-1 in this $150,000 race, will now join a Champion of Champions field that already includes Nellie Delaney, who at 4-5 odds was the second choice in the wagering in the Mildred Vessels. Nellie Delaney earned her berth to the Champion of Champions after winning the Los Alamitos Winter Championship on February 16. In this race, the FDD Dynasty filly broke through the gate prior to the start and was seventh at the start. She finished strongly to eventual finish in fourth place in this race. The loss snapped her five-race winning streak.
In addition to the mares Significant Heart and Nellie Delaney, the other horses also in this year’s $600,000 Champion of Champions are Vessels Maturity winner Far Niente, Remington Park Championship winner Bon Accord, All American Gold Cup winner DM Streakn Thru Fire, and All American Derby winner Too Flash For You.
“Eduardo rode Significant Heart to win the Breeders Derby last year in the first time that he had ridden her,” Jones said. “I told him on that night that she would break on top and she would win the race. He reminded me of that in the walking ring before this race today and to give him the same instructions as I did on that night. For a mare to qualify to the Champion of Champions two years in a row is impressive. If she can run her race in the Champion of Champions, she’ll be tough.”
Significant Heart finished 10th in last year Champion of Champions.
“I worked her 350 yards a few weeks ago and she felt great,” Nicasio added. “She ran perfect.”
Significant Heart earned $75,000 to take her career earnings to $226,517. Out of the stakes winner Jess Significant, Significant Heart improved to seven wins in 18 starts.
Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez’s Check N Fetch was looking to become the first back-to-back winner of the Mildred Vessels since Flare For Toby in 2000-2001. The daughter of Check Him Out almost made it happen, as she battled with Significant Heart the entire way. With Ramon Sanchez aboard, Check N Fetch earned $25,500. Named the AQHA champion aged mare in 2013, Check N Fetch has made $320,056 in her 25-race career.
Balgo Racing Team, Inc. and Marlyn Gonzalez’s Matabari ran third throughout in her 2014 racing debut. The daughter of Mr Jess Perry was making her first start since finishing third in the Champion of Champions last year. The AQHA champion 3-year-old filly, Matabari earned $15,000 in this race. Her lifetime earnings now stand at $1,336,930 over 11 career starts. Matabari ranks 35th all-time in money earned and is the 7th richest female Quarter Horse sprinter ever.
Following fourth place finisher Nellie Delaney was Shez Jess Toxic in fifth. I Go Out Walkin, Splendiferous Diva, Ss Calendar Girl and Tres Queens completed the field.