S-Quarter K LLC’s reigning AQHA World Champion Heza Dasha Fire won the $125,000 Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship in impressive fashion on Sunday night and will now have an opportunity to become the first back-to-back winner of the Champion of Champions since two-time world champion SLM Big Daddy accomplished the feat in 1997-98.
Ridden by Cruz Mendez for trainer Jose Flores, Heza Dasha Fire won the 440-yard Los Alamitos Invitational in a time of :21.380 and by a half-length over Bank of America California Championship winner BH Lisas Boy. Heza Dasha Fire is now the owner of the fastest 440 and 400-yard clockings at Los Alamitos this year. He had previously won the Grade 1 Go Man Go Handicap at 400 yards in :19.364. His victory in the Los Alamitos Invitational also earns Heza Dasha Fire a guaranteed starting berth in the Grade 1 $600,000 Champion of Champions on December 10. Heza Dasha Fire will now train up to the 440-yard Champion of Champions according to his connections, and by the looks of it he’ll be the favorite to win the sport’s most prestigious race for older Quarter Horses.
Bred by Don, Kathy and Shawn Meneely of S-Quarter K LLC, the Walk Thru Fire gelding out of the Mr Jess Perry mare Dasha Freda will now look to become only the fourth horse to win consecutive Champion of Champions victories in the 43-year history of the race. The others to successfully defend their titles are Dash For Cash in 1976 and ’77, Refrigerator in 1992, 1993 and 1994, and the aforementioned SLM Big Daddy.
In addition to Heza Dasha Fire, the other horses with guaranteed berths to the Champion of Champions are Grade 1 Vessels Maturity winner He Looks Hot, Grade 1 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap winner Sass Me Blue and Grade 1 Remington Park Championship winner Moonin The Eagle. All American Derby winner EC Jet One also won a berth to the Champion of Champions, but has since been retired to stud, and of course, the late Moonist had also won a berth to the Champion of Champions. The Bank of America Championship on October 29, Los Alamitos Super Derby on November 6 and the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on November 13 are the other races that will feature berths to the Champion of Champions.
In winning the Los Alamitos Invitational Championship, Heza Dasha Fire improved his lifetime record to 13 wins in 16 career starts. He also earned $61,250 for the win to take his career tally to $1,822,737. He’s earned every penny of that amount racing at Los Alamitos Race Course. A model of consistency, Heza Dasha Fire won two Grade 1 races as a 2-year-old, the Ed Burke Million Futurity and Golden State Million Futurity; two Grade 1 races as a 3-year-old, the Los Alamitos Super Derby and Champion of Champions; and now two Grade 1 races as a 4-year-old, the Go Man Go and Los Alamitos Invitational. Starting from post number two, Heza Dasha Fire broke sixth in the field of seven, but picked up speed quickly to take the lead after the first 100 yards. He had a ¾ length lead after 300 yards and then cruised to the wire from there.
“It was a great race for him,” said Don Meneely. “He didn’t break as alert as he has in the past, but boy after the first 50, 75 yards he just got into Dasha like form and was out there. It’s so spectacular to watch him out there to watch him when he’s out in front. You have to give BH Lisas Boy a lot of credit. He made a nice run at him at the end. Cruz (Mendez) saw him coming and popped Dasha a little bit and he held him off. It’s a good win and sets him up well for the Champion of Champions. Now we know that he’s in for sure. He’s a strong horse and he’s just exhilarating to watch.
“He’s incredible. He has that ability to accelerate out of the gate and he just separates himself from the other horses and sometimes he just gets out there and he kind of looks around. You don’t know if he’s running as fast as he can really run or if he’s just cruising out there. I sure rather see him out there in front than see him two or three lengths behind.”
Don Meneely and BH Lisas Boy’s owner, breeder and trainer, Bill Hoburg, have known each other a long time from their days racing horses in Washington.
“Bill lives about two miles from our house,” he said. “Our kids grew up playing together. My wife used to train horses against Bill back home. He then went on to train horses in Idaho and other parts of the country and has been very successful training horses in the AQHA Racing Challenge program. It’s great to compete against him and he has an outstanding horse in BH Lisas Boy.”
Ridden by Jesus Rios Ayala, BH Lisas Boy ran a tremendous race from post number six. His reputation as a superb quarter mile horse came to light once again in this event, as he we finished strongly to make things close at the wire. Sired by Mighty Invictus, BH Lisas Boy earned $26,250 for his runner-up effort. He’s now finished second or better in 15 of 19 career starts and his lifetime earnings are now $182,878. BH Lisas Boy will be looking to earn a Champion of Champions berth of his own in the Grade 1, $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship on October 29.
“All my respect to Bill Hoburg and his team and they’re doing great this year,” said Jose Flores, the trainer of Heza Dasha Fire. “I wish him all the best in the Bank of America Challenge Championships. It’s going to be exciting (the Champion of Champions). There’ll be some runners out there, obviously BH Lisas Boy ran a huge race. That horse always runs great at 440. I still think Dasha did a good job defending him. He’s a great horse and will keep on battling in. We just need to be careful and just get the best of him each time. He’s a fast horse.”
Flores added that Heza Dasha Fire will now take some time off before beginning preparations for the Champion of Champions.
“We’re going to freshen him up a little bit and start back,” Flores said. “Maybe about five weeks out, four weeks out we’ll give him a strong work just to come in sharp for the Champion of Champions because it’ll be a while, it’ll be nine weeks. That’s a reason I ran him here because if not I would have had to work in two to three times and with this horse like him you don’t want to be playing with him. He was due for a work too and 440 when it’s already been over five weeks that’s not the best distance to work a horse.
“Heza Dasha Fire gets out there by himself he starts lagging it and he can’t do that. Next time I hope I can draw right next to (BH Lisas Boy). He’s a great horse and that’s why he’ll be the favorite in the Bank of America Championship. He gave us a run for the money. He came out of nowhere in this race. I think Dasha, we have a few details that we have to work on and he can be even better. We have about two months until the Champion of Champions. I just hope he stays sound. I really think this horse runs better from the outside and might be a little bit faster than when he runs inside. He’s won out of every position probably, but I’ve seen that his biggest races have been on the outside. I love the 10 hole, but the nine, eight or seven will do.”
On a nearly perfect night, the only blemish was Heza Dasha Fire’s initial reaction when entering the gates for the Los Alamitos Invitational.
“He was moving around a little bit inside the gate,” Mendez said. “He lifted a bit and stumbled a bit, but he quickly recovered. He finished strong. I like how he finished and I like him for the Champion of Champions and 440 yards. He breaks nicely, but he finishes very strong. That’s what I love about Heza Dasha Fire.”
Two Feathers Series, LLC’s Stevie B First Cash finished third in his first start back at Los Alamitos since April. The Oklahoma-bred colt by First Down Dash returned to Orange County after a tremendous stay in New Mexico in which he won the $100,000 First Down Dash Handicap and finished third in the Grade 1 Rainbow Derby. Stevie B First Cash was 1 ¾ lengths behind BH Lisas Boy. Trained by Bret Vickery and ridden by Jose Amador Alvarez, Stevie B First Cash earned $13,125. Dutcher, the Vessels Maturity runner-up, was fourth and was followed across the wire by Viento Negro, He Looks Hot and Jess Cuz.