Reliance Ranches LLC’s Rock You, Dr. Steve Burns’ Seperate Interest, Ed Allred’s Well And Good and Angel Villalobos’ French Fury finished first through fourth, respectively, in the $25,000 Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trial to earn the final four starting berths to the prestigious $600,000 Champion of Champions on Sunday at Los Alamitos.
The top four finishers in the Z. Wayne Griffin will join the AQHA champions Moonist and Heza Dasha Fire plus Grade 1 winners Quirky, Far Niente, Dashin Brown Streak and Daytona B in the field to this year’s Champion of Champions to be contested at 440 yards on Saturday, December 12. If any of the qualified horses declines their berth to the Champion of Champions, the berth will then be offered to Paulo Otavio Freire MacEdo’s Solid Connection, the fifth place finisher in the Z. Wayne Griffin.
Ridden by Jimmy Dean Brooks for trainer Jaime Gomez, Rock You dominated the Z. Wayne Griffin right from the start. The 4-year-old gelding by Foose had a half-length advantage early on before cruising to a ¾ length victory. Rock You covered the 400 yards in :19.655. Bred by Steve Burns, Rock You has won nine of 22 career starts and his earnings of $8,250 in this race took his career bankroll to $776,565. The winner of the All American Gold Cup at Ruidoso Downs earlier this season, Rock You won last year’s Ruidoso Derby and is a two-time winner of the Bob Moore Stakes at Remington Park. Rock You also scored his second career victory at the Orange County oval. A half-brother to 2015 Golden State Million Futurity winner Little Talks, Rock You had previously won a trial to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity in 2013.
“He’s a super nice horse,” Gomez said. “Anyone can train a good horse like Rock You, believe me. We’ve tried to keep this horse happy and done some light training with him. He’s just a good horse to be around. He ran fourth to Moonist in the (Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship) in his last start, but if he would have left the gate on that night like he did tonight I think we would have been right there with Moonist. He broke like a bullet tonight.
“(Trainer) Eddie Willis sent me this horse after the end of the Ruidoso meet this past summer. We gave him a 220-yard work and then we entered him in the Los Alamitos Championship. He drew the outside post in that race and Eddie said that the horse is not a fan of the outside post. He ran fourth in the Los Alamitos Championship, but he had no trouble with it tonight. Jimmy Dean said he touched him one time left handed and that was it. I’m happy to qualify this horse for Eddie and Reliance Ranches. I hope we can have this much luck in the Two Million trials next Sunday. I’ll be starting about 10 horses for them in those trials.”
Seperate Interest won the Z. Wayne Griffin Invitational last year when the Champion of Champions was not contested. Seperate Interest ran second in the Z. Wayne Griffin this time around, but he earned a bigger prize as his reward was a berth to the Champion of Champions.
“The Champion of Champions will be his last race,” Burns said. “We’ll be retiring him to stud. Winning the Champion of Champions will be hard to do because it is a stellar field. It we can light the board in the Champion of Champions that would be great. It would be good advertisement for the stallion. He’s certainly a winner in the looks department. He’s a good looking horse.”
Burns will be part of the Champion of Champions for the second time as an owner.
“I was part of the ownership that ran Favorite Cartel in the Champion of Champions a few years,” he said.
Seperate Interest was ridden by Oscar Peinado and saddled by Mike Casselman. The Champion of Champions will be his 16th career start in a stakes race at Los Alamitos. In addition to winning the Z. Wayne Griffin, he also won the Town Policy Handicap and Kaweah Bar Handicap. The now 5-year-old Separatist gelding also ran second in the 2012 Golden State Million Futurity and 2015 Go Man Go Handicap. He was fourth in the 2012 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity.
“He got a little tired at the end of this one, but we have close to a month to get him ready for the Champion of Champions,” Casselman said. “We know he likes the 440-yard distance. He ran 440 yards at Ruidoso Downs when he was younger and he was third in the Los Alamitos Championship at 440 in his last start. He might be a little heavier now than he was in his younger days, but usually he finishes well. I hope he can find that next gear because he’ll need it in the Champion of Champions.”
Ed Allred’s Well And Good finished a nose behind Seperate Interest in third place in the Z. Wayne Griffin. The homebred 4-year-old gelding by Separatist has been a mainstay in stakes races since July of 2014. During that time, the Scott Willoughby-trainee has started in nine stakes races, winning the Scott Lewis Handicap at 550-yards and running second in four other stakes races. He was second in both the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity and Spencer Childers California Breeders Championship Handicap. Well And Good also gives Allred his second starter in this year’s Champion of Champions. The owner had already qualified to the race with the James Glenn Jr. trained Quirky.
“I’m just delighted that I was able to qualify this horse for Scott Willoughby,” said Huerta, who also rides Quirky. “This horse is not the fastest at the start, but he always does great the longer the distance. I think he’s going to be tough in the second half of the Champion of Champions. I qualified Quirky earlier this year and she’s been so consistent, but it’s a good feeling to also get this horse in the Champion of Champions for Scott and Dr. Allred. I owe a lot to Scott Willoughby. He gave me the great opportunity to ride so many good horses for Dr. Allred. He gave me the chance to ride He Looks Hot and we won the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity last year.”
Trained by Guillermo Morales, French Fury began the year winning a $12,500 claiming race. The Stoli gelding bred by Mercy Hinklin will finish the year racing in the Champion of Champions.
“This horse gives it all he can,” said Rodolfo Arvizu, who has been aboard the horse in each of his last seven starts. “He was a $12,500 claimer at the start of the year and he also ran for $50,000 and won for $40,000. Now he’s in the Champion of Champions. It’s going to be tough for him to win, but he’s in the race and anything can happen in a race.”
French Fury was third in the Grade 1 Go Man Go Handicap and also finished third in Bank of American Challenge Championship regional races in both California and Arizona. He’s other stakes appearances this season came in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship and the Los Alamitos Invitational Championship.
With Dashin Brown Streak headed to the barn of Paul Jones to begin preparing for the Champion of Champions, the Jones-trained Solid Connection will now await for confirmation that Daytona B will also participate in the Champion of Champions. If Daytona B opts to skip the Champion of Champions, then Solid Connections will join the field. Jiffy James and Remarkableyesapoweer also ran in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials.