LARC NEWS Posted: 9/26/2016 3:17:48 AM

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     Lucky Seven Ranch’s Sass Me Blue made the Grade 1, $100,000 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap the first stakes victory of her career after holding off La Primera Del Ano Derby winner Jess Good Reason by a head in the season’s marquee race for fillies and mares Sunday at Los Alamitos.

Ridden by Cody Jensen for trainer Mike Casselman, Sass Me Blue was third at the start, but quickly took the lead and finished nicely to beat the 18-1 longshot Jess Good Reason, the stakes winner Apolitical Zoom and the defending Mildred Vessels winner Quirky. Sent off as the second choice in the wagering at 2-1 odds, Sass Me Blue had not won a stakes race of any type in her previous 12 starts, but the Utah-bred mare by Valiant Hero had been close several times in major stakes races at Los Alamitos. She was third in the Golden State Derby and second in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby last year, both times when facing eventual World Champion Heza Dasha Fire. She also ran second in last year’s Grade 1 Southern California Derby and then posted another runner-up effort in a stakes races, this one to Quirky in the Grade 1 Charger Bar Handicap on January 3. Sass Me Blue’s win in the Mildred Vessels earns her a berth in the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions to be held here on December 10.

“It’s been a long time since Blues Girl Too,” said Lucky Seven Ranch’s Russell Stooks referring to his 2007 Champion of Champions winner.  “Blues Girl Too was the last horse we had in the Champion of Champions, so qualifying to another Champion of Champions is pretty special for us. It’s a good feeling. The Mildred Vessels was a good race. It was very competitive and everybody got away clean. Tonight we had the best horse.”

Blues Girl Too is the last filly or mare to win the Champion of Champions and her winning 440-yard time of :21.13 broke Dash For Cash’s stakes record time of :21.17. Blues Girl Too’s record time has since been broken, but her performance remains one of the most impressive Champion of Champions wins ever. Sass Me Blue will now look to give Russell and his wife, Lisa, another great Champion of Champions moment.

“This was a good race for us. It’s a sweet win. She would win, but then not qualify for the finals. She would lose by a half-length, a head, a nose, it was tough. It’s special to see her win and get in the Champion of Champions.”  

Picking up her sixth career victory, Sass Me Blue earned $50,000 to take her career earnings to $272,878. She covered the 400 yards in :19.811. While she was in the starting gate, a few of her rivals became antsy and acted up. Sass Me Blue never flinched according to her jockey.

“That was our big advantage in there,” Jensen said. “She really, really settled down in the gates good while all that business was going on up there. Some of them other ones may not have handled it quite as good as we did. We got away really, really good and I was able to hang on in there.”  

Trainer Mike Casselman won a Grade 1 race last year when he saddled Little Talks to victory in the Golden State Million Futurity. He adds another Grade 1 win to his resume thanks to Sass Me Blue in this race.

“I’m really excited about getting a chance to run in the Champion of Champions,” he said. “We’ve been setting our sights for this for a while so I’m glad she had the chance to come through for us. We just tried to do our job. The gate crew here is just tremendous. They help us with everything. I have good morning help and good gallop help and it’s all worked out to our benefit. (Sass Me Blue) just tries every time. We ran against Quirky once before off a two week layoff. We had a little bigger layoff this time. That helped us I believe. She just gives 100 percent every time.”

Bred by Lance Robinson and Max Anderson, Sass Me Blue joins Vessels Maturity winner He Looks Hot and Remington Park Championship winner Moonin The Eagle in the Champion of Champions field. Defending Champion of Champions winner Heza Dasha Fire, winner of the Go Man Go Handicap on September 4, is also close to a Champion of Champions spot. He’ll earn a berth as long as there are not dead-heats for first in two out of these three Champion of Champions qualifying races: the Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship on October 9, the Bank of America Challenge Championship on October 29 and the Los Alamitos Super Derby on November 6. The Champion of Champions field will be completed in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on November 13.    

Sass Me Blue’s dam is Jess Sass Me, which was a stakes winner at Los Alamitos in 2006. Sass Me Blue is a full sister to Jess Being Valiant, the runner-up in the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity in 2014 and winner of the A Ransom Handicap in 2013. Sass Me Blue’s half-sister is the Walk Thru Fire filly, Jess Walking Thru, the AQHA champion 2-year-old filly in 2014. Jess Walking Thru won that year’s Dash For Cash Futurity and ran third in the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity.

Trained by Paul Jones for Cina and John Sperry, Jess Good Reason earned $17,000 for running second. Oscar Peinado piloted the 3-year-old filly by Good Reason SA. Dennie and Kris Hill’s Apolitical Zoom earned $10,000 for running third for jockey Cesar De Alba and trainer Bret Vickery. Ed Allred’s Quirky earned $7,000 for finishing in fourth place. Quirky had previously defended her titles in the Charger Bar and California Breeders Matron Stakes. She was hoping to go a perfect 3 for 3 in title defenses. Take A Look, Nymph, Jess Cuz, Bac In Front, Tallulah Moon and Political Chick completed the field.

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