Atwood Ranches, Inc. and John Wells’ Far Niente become only the fourth horse to win the Grade 1 $145,500 Vessels Maturity more than once after humbling eight rivals by daylight to earn his second straight victory in the 400-yard dash on Sunday at Los Alamitos.
Ridden Eduardo Nicasio for trainer Jose Hernandez, Far Niente is the first horse to win consecutive runnings of the Vessels Maturity since World Champion Be A Bono won the 2005 and 2006 runnings. A Ransom, the 2000 World Champion, and 1990 champion aged stallion Jazzing Hi are the other two horses to defend their Vessels Maturity crown. The victory earns Far Niente a berth to the Grade 1 Champion of Champions to be held here on December 12.
Sent off at 8-1 odds, Far Niente defeated a field that included overwhelming 1-9 favorite Moonist, who false broke just before the start on the way to running third. Over $136,000 had been wagered on Moonist to place. Far Niente paid $17.40 to win and $33.30 to place, while second place finisher Well And Good returned $193.60 to place. There was no show wagering in the Vessels Maturity. Far Niente, who broke from post five on the way to a 1 ¼ length victory in a time of :19.586, gave his trainer the thrill of a lifetime.
“I was cheering loud for Far Niente during the race,” Hernandez said. “I’m always cool and laid back and I try not to show much emotion during races, but this was different. We were going against the best horse in the country in Moonist and we didn’t know if we could beat him. I was trying to be cool, but it was a different story when it looked like Far Niente was going to win. It gets you going when you see your horse win by that much against a great horse like Moonist.”
Sired by FDD Dynast and out of the stakes winning mare Shahayla, the 5-year-old Texas-bred gelding Far Niente earned $61,110 for the win to take his lifetime earnings to $420,398. Far Niente, which also won the Grade 1 Golden State Derby in 2013, has won 11 of 21 career starts.
“Three races back (in Kaweah Bar Handicap) I thought we could give Moonist a race, but he had a little trouble setting down in the gate,” Hernandez said. “We were just hoping that he would break clean to give himself a chance to challenge Moonist. We wanted him to run his race. He did that and a lot more.”
Wells began training at Los Alamitos over 50 years ago and over the past couple of years he’s handled the reins of his barn to Hernandez. Wells, who purchased ownership interest in Far Niente for this year, could not be happier with the results produced by his trainer.
“We talk four times a day and he listens to everything this old man has to say,” said the 72-year-old horseman. “It’s worked out great,” he added with a smile. “(Jose) deserves all the credit. He’s done a great job with this horse. We only ran this horse four times last year and we think we’re going to have a solid horse for the next few years to come.
“It’s fantastic,” Wells added. “At this point in my life it’s unbelievable to have a horse like this one. He blew me away tonight. He’s in the Champion of Champions. I’m happy to be in this position.”
Others with berths in the Champion of Champions are Los Alamitos Winter Championship winner Matabari and Remington Park Invitational Championship winner Dashin Brown Streak.
For winning jockey Eduardo Nicasio, he had to hustle to get the mount on Far Niente in the Vessels Maturity trials.
“I had lost the mount on Last To Fire and I didn’t think I would ride many horses in the Vessels trials,” he said. “I had ridden Far Niente when he was a 2-year-old and he impressed me a great deal. I told Jose Hernandez that if he gave me a chance on Far Niente that we could beat Moonist in this race. Far Niente ran a great trial race. It was a gallop for him and I was confident coming into this race.
“He broke great,” Nicasio added. “There was no one around me. He has a powerful late kick so I knew that we were in good shape. I’m very impressed with this horse. My business has slowed down this year, but a horse like Far Niente can really help out. I am just thankful for this opportunity and I always believed in this horse.”
Ed Allred’s Well And Good earned $24,735 for beating Moonist by a nose for second place. With Eulices Gomez aboard for trainer Scott Willoughby, Well And Good made a big move to go from sixth at the start to a runner-up finish in this event.
“Far Niente beat the gates and he was rolling,” Willoughby said. “Well And Good needs about 100 yards to get going, but he’s a great horse. He gives me everything. I couldn’t ask for anything more. We’d love to run him on California Breeders Champions Night (on July 25), but we’ll see. We’d love to get him in the Champion of Champions because 440 yards would be a perfect distance for this horse.”
Ron and Jeryl Hartley’s Moonist false broke just before the start of the race and that left him last at the start. He was flying late and he was catching Well And Good at the wire. Moonist still earned earned $17,460 for running third. The Separatist gelding was picking up only his third loss from his last 16 outings. He won nine straight to close out the year in 2014 and this season he has won four of six starts. He was second to Matabari in the Winter Championship earlier this year. As usual, Cesar De Alba piloted Moonist.
“He was trying to beat the doors and he false fired,” De Alba said. “He’s done that before. He was moving back right when they kicked it and otherwise he’s gone. He was coming on strong. Other than the false break he ran his race. H would have been 2nd with another step.”
The complete order of finish to the Vessels Maturity is as follows” Far Niente, Well And Good, Moonist, Jake Gold BR, Joe Legacy, Jiffy James, Separate Interest, Remarkablesapoweer, and Kokomo Beach. Last To Fire was scratched.