Owned and bred by Jim Walker, Zoomin For Spuds posted the fastest time in Sunday’s $15,000 Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials to earn him a berth to the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions to be held here on December 10.
Trained by Monty Arrossa, Zoomin For Spuds was one of 14 runners that competed in a pair of Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials for a chance to win one of final five guaranteed berths to the Champion of Champions. In the end, Zoomin For Spuds, Golden State Derby runner-up Militarist and Bank of America Turf Paradise Challenge Championship runner-up Heat Warning earned berths out of the first trial, while Golden State Derby and El Primero Del Ano Derby winner Rite Regal and multiple local stakes winner Forget It qualified from the second trial.
The final five qualifiers will now join reigning AQHA World Champion Heza Dasha Fire, the winner of last year’s Champion of Champions, Vessels Maturity winner He Looks Hot, Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap winner Sass Me Blue, Bank of America Challenge Championship winner Ajs High and Los Alamitos Super Derby winner Big Lew in the 44th running of the Champion of Champions at 440 yards.
Zoomin For Spuds has been amazing at Los Alamitos this year. The Idaho bred 3-year-old gelding by Zoomin For Bux has won a meet’s best five stakes races in 2016, none bigger than his Z. Wayne Griffin victory. Ridden by Cruz Mendez, Zoomin For Spuds covered the 400 yards in :19.695 while also enjoying his fifth win in a row at Los Alamitos. He’s won seven of his last nine starts at the Orange County oval. And now he’s next outing will come in the Champion of Champions.
“I can’t even explain it,” an elated Arrossa said. “It’s definitely my biggest dream come true. I know that for owner Jim Walker it’s his biggest dream come true as well. He wasn’t paid into anything. We decided to see how he would run on Bank of America Challenge Night and he ran great. I called Jim up and said ‘let’s supplement him into the Z. Wayne Griffin Trials to the Champion of Champions. He said ‘absolutely, let’s run him against the best in the world.’ I’m thankful Jim did that. I felt good about him coming into this race. He came out of the last race real well. It’s only been two weeks and he runs a little better when he’s fresh. I wasn’t really too worried about the time, but you’re always concerned when it’s two weeks back.”
Zoomin For Spuds won the Wrangler Stakes by ¾ lengths on Bank of America Racing Challenge Night on October 29 and his Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials by a half-length. He also won the Costa Mesa and Fullerton handicaps in February and March and the Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap on September 30. He won $126,000 Wild West Futurity here last year. For his career, Zoomin For Spuds has won seven of 17 starts while earning $115,543.
Steve Burns and Mike Casselman’s Militarist finished in second place for the fourth race in a row, but it was more than enough to earn him a ticket to the Champion of Champions. Ridden by Cesar De Alba and saddled by Casselman, Militarist covered the distance in :19.762. He came into this race after running second in a trial to the Los Alamitos Super Derby. He was second to Rite Regal in the Golden State Derby final and second to Jess Ravin in a trial to the Golden State. Sired by Favorite Cartel, Militarist is out of 2010 Las Damas Handicap winner Hawk Kue Pie.
Trainer Matthew Fales brought a string of Quarter Horses to Los Alamitos for the first time in 2016. His first win at the Orange County oval came with Money Too Burn on June 26. He’ll now have a chance to win lots of money in the Champion of Champions after Heat Warning posted the fifth fastest time of :19.843 with jockey Jorge Martin Bourdieu aboard. Bourdieu is no stranger to Los Alamitos Race Course. He was a leading Thoroughbred and Arabian pilot here early in his riding career in the United States. Owned and bred by Ralph and Carolyn Fales, Heat Warning came into the trials after finishing fourth to Ajs High in the Bank of America Challenge Championship on October 29.
Owned by Urschel 3-D Ranch LLC, Rite Regal won the second division of the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trial by a head over Forget It just one week after running second to Big Lew in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby. His quick return from the Super Derby to the Z. Wayne Griffin is reminiscent of Ocean Runaway’s sophomore year in 2005 when he finished second in the Super Derby, but returned to win the Z. Wayne Griffin in track record time seven days later. He returned 21 days later to win the Champion of Champions.
“He really has a heart this horse,” said trainer Jose Flores of Rite Regal. “He came back seven days later and just got it done. I know Mrs. Urschel, Donnie (Knight) and myself were concerned (about the quick turnaround), but we had him checked out and Dr. Rick Overly gave him the okay to go ahead and run him. I was just glad that he never stopped eating and he never gave us any hassles. He really showed me he has more heart than anything. Even though he was unfortunate not to get in by winning the Super Derby, I know he has the ability to be a lot and we expect a lot more from him next year. Hopefully he’ll come back (well) and we’ll look forward to the Champion of Champions.”
Flores will also saddle the defending Champion of Champions winner Heza Dasha Fire in the big race on December 10.
“It’s fun to have one, but it’s even better when you have two,” he said. “You never know. If they’re in there that means they deserve to be in there.”
Dr. Steve Burns bred by gelding by Favorite Cartel. Cruz Mendez rode him to a winning time of :19.830.
Racing for Hector Villalobos and trained by Jose Moreno, Forget It enjoyed a perfect prep race for the Z. Wayne Griffin Trials when he posted a ¾ length victory in the Norwalk Handicap on October 7. Forget It used that effort to help him qualify to the Champion of Champions following his hard-fought second place finish to Rite Regal. His resume will be one of the best in the Champion of Champions, as he won three major derbies in 2015 – the Grade 1 Southern California Derby, the Governor’s Cup Derby and the El Primero Del Ano Derby. He’s also finished in the top three in Grade 1 races like the Vessels Maturity, Los Alamitos Super Derby, Ed Burke Million Futurity and the Restricted Grade 1 Spencer Childers California Breeders Championship Handicap. Bred by Ed Allred, the Foose gelding has also earned $583,089 in his 22-race career. G. Jairo Rangel, one of the top young riders at Los Alamitos, piloted him to a qualifying time of :19.842.