Trainer Jose Flores enjoyed a magical year in 2015 highlighted by his unforgettable weekend in mid-December in which he saddled eventual World Champion Heza Dasha Fire to victory in the Champion of Champion and eventual champion 2-year-old gelding Ima Fearless Hero to victory in the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity.
While Flores admits that it has not been easy to duplicate his picture perfect 2015 campaign, a quick turnaround could be in the cards for his barn, especially with Urschel 3-D Ranch LLC’s Rite Regal on his side. Bred by Steve Burns, the gelding by Favorite Cartel won the Grade 2 $203,200 Golden State Derby on Sunday at Los Alamitos to make him a two-time derby winner here this season. Rite Regal previously won the $210,000 El Primero Del Ano Derby at the Orange County oval on April 3.
For the year, Rite Regal has won four of six starts and his Golden State earnings of 85,344 make him a winner of $197,977 for the year and an earner of 215,275 for his career. Ridden by Cruz Mendez, Rite Regal won the Golden State in wire-t0-wire fashion, while covering the 400 yards in :19.704. He crossed the finish line a head in front of Burns and Casselman’s Militarist. Rite Regal has now won four races in a row.
“It was a shame that (Rite Regal) didn’t get in to the Two Million last year, but he’s making up for it this year,” Flores said. “I hope he continues on the right path. He’s in the Super Derby and we’re looking at the Southern California Derby or Champion of Champions. We’ll see if he gets it done. Ima Fearless Hero was (eligible to these trials), but got a cut and it got infected. It was a shame that we couldn’t race Hero here, but his barn companion pulled it out. It’s great that we got the win.”
Flores credited Mendez for a great ride aboard the sorrel gelding.
“Cruz did an excellent job on him,” he said. “He left better than he has in a long time. He looked like he did in the first race when I first ran him. He started drifting in, but I think Cruz has found the way to riding him. I know Cruz did a lot of studying and he (viewed video replays) of a lot of the races that he had been running. Cruz told me he was going to make some changes in the way he (would ride) him. I saw that Cruz (got after) him left handed and I think that made a lot of difference. He let him get into his stride and before the horse even thought about drifting in he used the whip one of two times on the horse.”
Going into 2016, Flores knew that repeating his 2015 campaign would not be easy.
“I don’t know how I can equal it,” Flores said. “It’s tough. We had injuries to some of our good 2-year-olds, but they’re coming back slowly. I hope to have some of them ready for the Golden State Million Futurity and some to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. Hopefully everything will shape up for us. You know, sometimes you get used to the good life. My father told me ‘Jose, this year might not be like the last year so don’t keep your head down.” It would have been okay if it wasn’t for the injuries at the beginning of the year. It hurt because to get back on track is tough.”
Flores could be in for a quick turn-around to his campaign, as Heza Dasha Fire and Ima Fearless Hero are looking to make returns to the track in the near future. Both horses were shelfed in the spring due to surgeries, but Heza Dasha Fire is eyeing a return to the track in the Go Man Go Handicap on September 4, while Ima Fearless Hero is being pointed to race in the trials to the PCQHRA Breeders Derby on September 10.
“Heza Dasha Fire worked spectacular and I’m really excited to see him run in the Go Man Go. Ima Fearless Hero, we’ll run him in the trials to the PCQHRA Breeders Derby. We’ll see from there and we’ll see how he does. Maybe (the derby trial) is a prep race or maybe we think he should go (in the Breeders Derby final if he qualifies). The big money is in the Los Alamitos Super Derby, but we don’t know yet. We’ll try to run and if he does well, then who knows. We’ll see what the Meneelys decide to do. We’ll make a plan, but we’ll keep talking about it.”
Rite Regal, meanwhile, began his current winning streak by taking the El Primero Del Ano by a head. He then won an allowance race by a half-length before winning his Golden State derby trial by a half-length.
Ridden by Ruben Lozano for trainer Mike Casselman, Militarist earned $34,544 for running second in the Golden State Derby. The trainer admits that Militarist can be tough to ride at times, but Lozano has now piloted to back-to-back solid runner-up efforts. He also finished second to Jess Ravin in their Golden State trial.
EG High Desert Farms’ Jess Ravin had her three-race win streak snapped after she finished in a dead-heat for third with Lisa Anderson’s Go Black Benny. They each earned $19,304. Sale Topper, Senor Gianni, Much Better Reason, Walk Thru Crystal, Free Swinger and Peacefull Delight completed the field.