One Proud Eagle is the ugly duckling that has turned into a swan. Owned by Ron Hartley, One Proud Eagle was often referred to by his trainer, John Cooper, as an ugly duckling, but eight outings into his racing career, there’s no doubt that he’s now a beauty.
“John used to call him the ugly duckling, but look at him now,” Hartley said with a laugh. “He’s done great for us. I didn’t have in a lot of big futurities this year, but he’s in four derbies in 2017. This race was a good prep for the Los Alamitos Winter Derby trials (on January 21).”
The prep race was Friday’s running of the $20,000 Holiday Handicap, which One Proud Eagle led for most of the way before holding off Ed Allred’s Tough To Figure by a head. With Ramon Sanchez up, Cooper’s trainee covered the 350 yards in :17.677 while posting his fifth win in eight career starts. One Proud Eagle has finished third or better in seven of those outings and his only out of the money finish was a fourth in a trial to the PCQHRA Breeders Futurity in mid-September. His wins, however, came in high profile events, including the $428,000 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity and he $151,000 John Deere Juvenile Challenge. He earned $11,000 in winning the Holiday to take his career earnings to $275,105. Not bad for an ugly duckling.
“He was always there, but you would look at all the big old horses and he’s a little guy on the end,” Cooper said. “When you went to breeze him, all of the sudden he come to the top. Like (Rod MacPherson) used to say ‘the cream will come to the top on the good ones.’ We didn’t have him in many futurities last year, but that could be a good thing now. He’s very sound and we have a fresh horse. We were probably going to give him another work and we felt why not try to pick up some money instead of working him for free.”
One Proud Eagle won the Kindergarten by a length over eventual Grade 1 winner Chazaq earlier this year and posted a half-length victory in the John Deere final over a field that included Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity finalist Kissed By An Eagle on October 29. That was One Proud Eagle’s most recent start prior to the Holiday Handicap. He came into this Holiday after posting an easy turn and work at 350 yards on December 18.
Ridden by Gary Boag for trainer Scott Willoughby, Tough To Figure finished a strong second while inching closer to the leader with every stride. The filly by Walk Thru Fire was making her stakes debut and only her fifth career start. She ran twice in the Spring and then took the summer and most of the autumn off before breaking her maiden on November 19. She was second in an allowance race in her last start on December 11. Tough To Figure earned $4,500 for her runner-up effort.
EG High Desert Farms’ Pat Hyland Handicap winner Jess Hawk earned $2,500 for running third. The One Sweet Jess filly showed great quickness leaving the gate first, but had to settle for third while dealing with strong finishes by One Proud Eagle and Tough To Figure. Scholarly, One Sweet Jewel, Bannister and Janes Cartel completed the field.