The saying goes “the third time is the charm,” but for Fawna Knight’s star juvenile, Worth Doing, his fourth stakes appearance was just as fine a time to collect his first ever stakes victory, doing so in Sunday’s Grade 1, $1,950,050 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity.
Ridden by Tony Guymon for Knight’s brother, trainer Mark Skeen, Worth Doing was quick out the gate and fast into his powerful stride on the way to holding off even money favorite Lotta Blues Man by a head in California’s richest Quarter Horse race. Bred by Ed Allred, the sport’s all-time leading breeder, the gelding by Walk Thru Fire covered the 400-yard distance in :19.831 while returning $17.40 for the win. Worth Doing was also making his fourth appearance in a stakes race this year. He was second in both the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity and the Governor’s Cup Futurity and third in the Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity. He was one of only three juveniles this year to qualify to all three of the million dollar races at Los Alamitos, with runner-up Lotta Blues Man and Cartel Sixes being the others. Cartel Sixes finished fourth in the Los Alamitos Two Million, only a nose behind third place finisher Katella Deli.
For the outstanding Worth Doing and the entire Knight and Skeen racing teams, the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity went exactly as they hoped. The California-bred was a close fourth at the start, less than a half-length behind early leader Mr Apollitical Dash. Worth Doing took the lead shortly after the start and then opened up a half-length advantage on fastest qualifier Lotta Blues Man. The two battled the rest of the way, and while Lotta Blues Man inched closer with every stride, it was the finish line that came first for Worth Doing.
“It got pretty close at the end, but what I’ve said the whole time is that what we needed to do was to get a neck out of there because he’s all heart and fast,” said Skeen. “The horse doesn’t make many mistakes. He pretty much does his thing all the time, every time. It seems like he runs back in the final a little better than in the trials.”
The start of the race was delayed for a few minutes after the field was backed out of the gate when one of the horse’s saddles came undone while in the gate. Once the issue with the equipment was corrected, the horses were loaded back in the gate and off they went.
“Unloading him tonight, that didn’t hurt him,” Skeen said. “I wasn’t nervous about that and I think it probably helped him. Tony does such a good job riding that horse. Every morning he’s there to work in the barn. He hasn’t missed a morning. Every time (Worth Doing) goes to the track he’s been there. Of course the guys at the barn, my wife Holly, and Fawna and her husband, Keith, have all been great. We just have a really good partnership and a good team. It’s been fun with this horse.”
Mark and Fawna lost their father, Ronald “Rip” Skeen, on Christmas Day 2014. Rip was a big part of their racing team and a co-owner on the horses the family campaign, which included the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby winner Oatman.
“My dad was the backbone of the whole deal for my entire life,” said the trainer. “He was always proud of me. He didn’t get to see this horse, but he got to see a lot of other good ones, just not this one.”
“Without (my grandfather) this isn’t possible,” said Knight’s son, Ren. “The most amazing thing is the road that my mom and Mark have been through to get here. Oatman ran a few years ago and he was an amazing horse and getting better. He passed away and that was (tough) for the family. Then to come back two years after my grandpa passed, that just makes it that much more memorable. He’s here right now with us.”
Rip Skeen, who passed away at the age of 86, was involved with youth programs at his church in Ogden, Utah. He participated in and coached church sports activities. He had a lifelong interest in horses and provided opportunities for family fun and competition in Jr. Posse and chariot pony racing. His love for horses resulted in the family’s involvement of ownership of Quarter Horses with his son doing the training and he partnering with his daughter on the ownership of the horses.
“We did Jr. Posse,” said Knight referring to the equestrian youth organization for riders 18 and under. “That’s what we started out doing. We grew up in Ogden. We always had horses. We liked it. Mark was always a good hand with horses and dad always gave us opportunities to compete with our horses. Mark was a jockey for a little bit. He got big, started training and my dad bought a few horses for him and so did my uncle. Then when I got in a position where Keith and I could invest a little we started doing it. It’s been a family business. Ren, he’s at the (Los Alamitos Equine Sale) with us, Mark’s son, Wyatt, and my daughter and son-in-law live here. We’re all in it together. We have our friends and family that comes and supports us.
“My husband, Keith, he’s the best,” said Knight, who resides in Orange County and in Scottsdale, Arizona. “He just lets us do kind of what we want. He shows up for the sale on the day that he thinks we might have something to buy. He brings the grandkids over and he’s very supportive. He’s always telling Mark (bid) one more time. We’ve had a few Walk Thru Fires and Doc Allred is amazing. He gives us the opportunity to buy nice horses.
“We had (Worth Doing) picked out in the early stages,” she added. “You have four or five that you’re looking at and he was definitely our favorite (at the 2015 Los Alamitos Equine Sale). We really didn’t know if we would get him bought for what we wanted to spend.”
Ren, whose passion for the horses came through on Sunday night, was also a big fan of Worth doing.
“He was big and strong,” Ren added. “He was well built in the shoulders. Knees were good and x-rays were clean. It was difficult to see what you didn’t like about him. We had him picked before the sale. Mark paid a visit over to Allred’s and went to the ranch and really liked him. We didn’t know if he was going to be in a price range that we were comfortable with.”
In the end, the brother and sister got the horse that they wanted at the Equine Sale for $50,000. His sire is Walk Thru Fire, which is also the sire of 2015 World Champion Heza Dasha Fire, 2013 World Champion Last To Fire, 2014 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity winner He Looks Hot and champion 2-year-old fillies Walk Thru Crystal and Separate Fire. His mother is Callan Rocks, an All American Derby finalist in 2010. Jaime Gomez purchased Callan Rocks at the 2015 Equine Sale out of the Allred consignment of mares. Worth Doing earned $801,381 for his victory in the Los Alamitos Two Million to take his career earnings to $1,179,401. He’s won six of nine stars with his only defeats coming in those aforementioned futurity finals.
Skeen and his wife Holly, a former leading rider in the Northwest and Intermountain region, were enjoying the biggest win of their careers and seeing the fruits of their decades of hard work. For most of the year when one of them his tending to the barn at Los Alamitos, the other is in Utah taking care of their racing.
“With the horses, it’s every day,” Knight added. “Mark doesn’t go on a lot of vacation. He’s dedicated and he’s so hands on. He’s always at the barn first.”
“People don’t understand the road that a lot of people take and the sacrifices that this takes,” Ren added. “Mark has been in this since the early 1970s. He’s had a lot of great horses. Holly (Skeen) was our jockey. She was a leading rider in the Northwest and in Boise. They make a great team, but they sacrifice more than people realize. You are away from your best friend, you spouse. We (currently) have anywhere between eight to 10 horses. We only have about 20 starts this year, but Mark’s winning percentage sits at about 40%. We’ve got a good trainer on our hands. You don’t need a lot (of horses) with Mark as your trainer.”
And it also helps greatly when the team also features an experienced top rider like Tony Guymon, now in his second full year at Los Alamitos.
“This year has been special,” Guymon said. ”It started out with (winning the) Kindergarten (with One Proud Eagle) and then this horse came along. He’s put me on the dance floor for every dance. He’s been there. What he’s done for me has been great and I just look for better things to come. He’s going to keep going. This is the best he’s broke (in the Los Alamitos Two Million). He always kind of breaks with them, but he broke (with the leaders) and then he wouldn’t let them get by.
“We had the last pick (on the post position selection show this past Wednesday) and I was like ‘Oh man,’ ” Guymon added. “But when they left us the two hole and Lotta Blues Man had the three, I thought it was good. We are right by the horse we wanted to be next to because I knew what he would do. Lotta Blues Man runs big at the end. I thought if we were with him that we would push each other and that it was going to be a horse race and it was. When there was the little delay, my horse was perfect. Nothing upsets this horse. He’s a pro. He stays on his toes, but he didn’t get nervous and he didn’t get upset. He walked back in and looked down the racetrack and he was going to go.
“He earned it. He deserves it. This horse showed up every single time from Ed Burke, Governor’s Cup, Golden State and now to win this one. He comes back and he wants to do it more every time. People think I might be pulling their leg, but for each race he’s come back even stronger and happier. That goes to the guys in the barn. He’s just a happy horse and a happy horse runs well.”
Family was theme on this night and it continued with the winning rider.
“I moved from the southeast corner of Utah to be at Los Alamitos,” Guymon said. “My son (Yencye) was here tonight. It’s a thrill and I’m so glad he was here. He doesn’t miss the big races. He’d be here for every race if he could. My wife couldn’t be here, but she’s watching. Probably half of the little town where I’m from is watching. My son has them all watching TVG. He’s a good ambassador for the sport. People that never knew what horse racing was, he’s taught them what horse racing is. We have people that have never been to a horse, they follow this horse now.”
And so will the rest of the Quarter Horse racing world.
Ridden by Cody Jensen for trainer Mike Casselman, Lucky Seven Ranch’s Lotta Blues Man was just a step behind Worth Doing at the start and was always playing catch up from there. The winner of the Golden State Million and third place finisher in the Ed Burke Million, the homebred gelding by Favorite Cartel earned $324,368 for his runner-up effort. Lotta Blues Man has earned $875,763 in his precocious seven race career.
Trainer Jaime Gomez saddled the third and fourth place finishers in this race in the form of Dutch Masters III and Paul Blanchard’s Katella Deli and P and J Racing Ltd’s Cartel Sixes. With Carlos Huerta up from post number one, Katella Deli earned $228,966. He was fifth in the Kindergarten earlier this year. Cartel Sixes, with Rodrigo Aceves aboard, earned $133,563 for running fourth. Rancho El Cabresto, Inc’s Mr Apollitical Dash added $114,483 for his fifth place effort, while Mark and Peggy Brown’s Kissed By An Eagle made $95,403 for running sixth. Ms Jess Knockout, Jess Mas, One Hot Habit and Billionaire Boy completed the field.
The $30,000 Los Alamitos Juvenile Invitational went to Blueeyedeagle, which races for Steve Brantley’s Two Feathers Series LLC. The gelding by One Dashing Eagle was picking up his third consecutive win. He won the race by a head earned $12,000 for his effort. Jesus Rios Ayala piloted the Louisiana-bred.