Balgo Racing Team LLC and Marlyn Gonzalez’s Matabari did not make any mistakes on the way to spoiling champion Moonist’s bid to win his 10th race in a row in Sunday’s Grade 1, $169,800 Los Alamitos Winter Championship.
Ridden by Santiago Mendez for trainer Felix Gonzalez, Matabari broke slightly behind Moonist in the 400-yard race, but she quickly accelerated to take the lead on the way to scoring victory by a head in a time of :19.761. It was a trifecta of champions, as Matabari was the champion 3-year-old filly in 2013, while runner-up Moonist was 2014’s overall champion 3-year-old and champion 3-year-old gelding, and third place finisher Jake Gold Br was the International champion last year.
Bred by Balgo’s Jose Maria Gonzalez, Matabari has enjoyed a tremendous racing career. The daughter of Mr Jess Perry won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity in 2012, and the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby the following year. Matabari did not win either of her two starts as a 4-year-old last year, but she bounced back in a big way tonight. She’s now the third distaffer to ever win the Winter Championship, joining 2014 winner Nellie Delaney and 2002 winner Corona Kool in the process.
“She didn’t do great last year, but we were still pointing her to this race,” Gonzalez said. “If she doesn’t win this race, she would have been retired. We’ll keep running her now. We’ll give her some time off. We’ll send her to Lazy E Ranch to breed her to Corona Cartel and then we’ll bring her back. We got an embryo out of her (by Corona Cartel) last year and that baby could be born any day now.”
Matabari earned $71,136 for the win to take her career earnings to $1,410,291. That figure is believed to make her fifth richest money earning Quarter Horse mare of all-time only behind Blues Girl Too ($2,032,328), Heartswideopen ($1,885,283), Dashingly ($1,754,323), and Corona Cash ($1,542,880). To be horse to end Moonist’s winning streak, which is one of longest in the history of Los Alamitos, is just another accomplishment that she can add to her impressive resume.
“I’m very surprised right now,” the owner added. “She beat a great champion in Moonist. There were a lot of very nice runners in this race. We thought she had a shot because Matabari is very tough as well. She broke fast. We were shouting and screaming for her at the wire. It was a close race and I waited to make sure that she had won it before I started celebrating. She just broke too fast. My kids, my family, my friends are all here so it’s exciting. We also have her half sister here in training. She’s a 2-year-old filly by Walk Thru Fire out of Hold Me Now. We have her to be excited about.”
For Felix Gonzalez, the Winter Championship was a return to the spotlight for the veteran trainer. In his career, Gonzalez has trained likes of champion Hawkish and PCQHRA Breeders Futurity winner Valiantly, and multiple Grade 1 finalist Two Corona Special.
“It had been a while since I’ve won a big race like this one,” the trainer said. “It’s good to be back. I’ve only had Matabari for a month, but I’ve always been a big fan of this mare and I’ve watched her for a long, long time. She has a huge heart and she always tries so hard. She never gives up. She was a little nervous this morning, but when she was in the saddling paddock she was relaxed. She’s a classy mare.”
The start of the race proved to be the key to victory according to jockey Santiago Mendez.
“She did not break that great in the trials, but she came on strong to finish second in that race,” he said. “I was just hoping that she could get a good start because I knew that she would finish. She ended up getting a great start and then we started battling with Moonist. With 50 yards to go, she really started taking off. She finished very strong.”
Mendez was sidelined for several months in 2014, as he recovered from injuries suffered in an accident in the winner’s circle on the night of the Los Alamitos Claiming Futurity on June 15.
“I’ve had a few knocks, but I’m fortunate to be back and I feel great,” said the 26-year-old jockey. “I’ve won some nice races over the years. I won the Golden State Million Futurity with One Sweet Jess and won the Vessels Maturity with Blues Man Too. Matabari is an honest mare just filled with a lot of heart. She gives it her all.”
Ron and Jeryl Hartley’s Moonist earned $28,866 for running second for trainer John Cooper and jockey Cesar De Alba. The Separatist gelding has now earned $492,084. In 22 career starts, he’s won 14 races and finished second in three other races.
“He ducked in a little bit at the start,” Cooper said. “The law of averages will catch you if you have enough races. He never leveled out until it was close to (the end of the race). I was too late. That’s what happens.”
“He broke good,” De Alba said. “I thought we were in good shape during the race, but I just couldn’t shake (Matabari) off. She just beat us.”
Clodoaldo De Oliveria Miranda’s Jake Gold Br earned $20,376 for running third. Paul Jones saddled Jake Gold Br, who was ridden by Joe Badilla Jr. Remarkableyesapoweer, Far Niente, French Fury, Wagon Tales, Tres Pescado, New Look and Seperate Interest completed the field.