The outcome of the Grade 2 $294,500 Kindergarten Futurity started to become crystal clear at the halfway mark of the 300-yard dash. That’s because EG High Desert Farms’ impressive filly Walk Thru Crystal proved to be too quick and too good to be denied a victory on Sunday night at Los Alamitos. In the end, the fastest qualifier Walk Thru Crystal was a comfortable winner, crossing the wire a half-length ahead of Jaime Gomez’s Docs Best Card, while leading the richest running of the Kindergarten since 2011 in wire-to-wire fashion.
Ridden by Alejandro Luna and trained by his wife, Yanet Rodriguez, Walk Thru Crystal improved her record to three wins in as many starts and covered the distance in a time of :15.399 at odds of even money. The win was the fourth Kindergarten win for Luna in his career, a figure that ties him with Bobby Adair for most victories in this race. Luna had previously won the Kindergarten with Vachetta, Carters Cartel, and Twin Spires, a trio of runners from the barn of Jaime Gomez. Gomez was looking for his record eighth Kindergarten win, but instead the training honors went to Rodriguez, a second generation trainer, who was enjoying her first stakes victory ever at Orange County track.
Enrique Gonzalez of EG High Desert Farms had previously won the Kindergarten with Hawkish in 2003 followed by Dash To The End in 2004. His third Kindergarten win makes him only the fourth owner to have won this race at least three times. Ivan Ashment and Dutch Masters III with four wins each and Vessels Stallion Farm with three wins are the others.
“I wasn’t nervous before the race, but when I saw the 10 horses ready to go in the gate I thought that any of the 10 could win it,” Gonzalez said. “I was already starting to prepare myself for the possibility of not winning the race. Then when the race started I saw that Walk Thru Crystal was off to a good start and I also that my other filly in the race (Marko Czech) did not have a good start after getting bumped. I couldn’t believe it when my filly won. It’s a thrill to win this race again. It’s been a while since I’ve won a race like this.”
Gonzalez was the AQHA champion owner in 2003 after campaigning champion 2-year-old colt Hawkish to three futurity wins that year at Los Alamitos. Gonzalez has also campaign champion aged stallion Hawkinson and multiple stakes winners Magic Show Czech and top aged mares Clydette Mia and Merridoc Hawk. He also had some difficult years in the sport.
“I was going through some tough times in my personal life,” Gonzalez said. “I was not feeling well and was dealing with some issues. My racing operation struggled during that time. You have to be sharp when you are breeding horses and I wasn’t doing a good job when it came to selecting which stallions to breed to which mares. When that happens it takes about three years to get started again. I felt bad about what was going on with my horses, but it was my fault.”
EG High Desert Farms is back on an upward swing thanks to purchases like Walk Thru Crystal. Gonzalez bough the La Presita LLC and Armando Leon-bred filly, which is a sister to Grade 3 stakes winner Crystal Sola, for $60,000 at the Los Alamitos Equine Sale last year. Walk Thru Crystal’s dam is Corona Crystal. She qualified to several major futurities at Los Alamitos and is from the family of champions Heartswideopen, American Runaway, Hes Relentless, and Dashing Phoebe. Gonzalez bred Marko Czech, which finished 10th after a very troubled start, and Kindergarten trial winner Unclaimed Dividens, which lost a shake to get into the Kindergarten final after tying for the 10th fastest qualifying time.
The win was emotional for the jockey/trainer team of Alejandro Luna and Yanet Rodriguez. Luna has ridden the winners of Champion of Champions and million dollar futurities, but he was shaking with emotion following this Kindergarten.
“I got a text from (former Quarter Horse trainer) Kelly Lewis before the race wishing me good luck and telling me to go get this one,” Luna said. “It touched me because Kelly is the one that pushed me to get my jockey license back in 1995. This win is for Kelly. Walk Thru Crystal has a lot more to give. I didn’t ask much from her because she was so quick at the start. I just pushed her a little bit at the end. I’ve been working with this horse since last year.”
Luna also worked as a groom for trainer Bob Baffert at Los Alamitos in 1988.
“Alejandro has worked a lot with this filly,” Rodriguez added. “He has a lot of experience and that’s what you need. We’ve liked this filly since the first day that we started breaking her. She’s easy to train. She is small, but fast. She’s a tiny bullet.”
Rodriguez was accompanied in the winner’s circle by her father, longtime Los Alamitos trainer Santiago Rodriguez.
“He came out and helped me saddle the horses,” she said. “I learned a lot from my dad. The biggest thing I learned is that in this sport you have good things that happen and bad things that happen, but my dad stayed with it no matter what. He did it because he loved it. You have to do it from the bottom of your heart. You work with the horses because you love it. That’s how I feel. I love it. I know I’ll always stick with the horses.”
For the 31-year-old trainer, her barn often consisted of 10 horses. But since she’s started to train for EG High Desert Farms, her barn has doubled to 21 horses.
“I have some good babies now,” she said. “I used to have mostly claiming horses, some would call them cheap horses, but they got me here.”
After watching his daughter go on TVG set at Los Alamitos for an interview following the Kindergarten, Santiago Rodriguez hugged her and said his goodbyes.
“He lives in Alpaugh, California (near Tulare County),” Rodriguez added. “He runs a cattle business there. He better be back for the Ed Burke Million Futurity trials.”
Walk Thru Crystal earned $123,690 for the win to take her career earnings to $129,520.
Gomez saddled runner-up Docs Best Card, Bobby Cox’s third place finisher Carnegie Haul, and Dutch Masters III’s Thru The Night, which finished in a dead-heat for sixth place.
“I have no excuses,” Gomez said. “Everyone broke well except for (Marko Czech). My horses ran hard and look at the time of :15.399. That’s a pretty good time. I’m pleased with my horses. I thought that Carnegie Haul was going to finish second, but Docs Best Card got him at the end. Carnegie Haul tried hard and he’s a really nice horse. Walk Thru Crystal didn’t make any mistakes. The top three finishers did not make any mistakes. I was trying to win Kindergarten number eight, but that eighth win is tough to get. Hopefully one of these years I get win number eight.”
Ridden by Oscar Peinado, Docs Best Card earned $50,065 for running second. Carnegie Haul earned $35,340 for finishing third with jockey Carlos Huerta aboard. Ed Allred’s Joyous finished fourth and earned $20,615. Ramon Sanchez piloted the filly for trainer Scott Willoughby. Big Time Wild, Ready Red and Thru The Night (dead heat for sixth), High Class Cartel, Trust Me Not, and Marko Czech completed the field.