EG High Desert Farms’ Jess Hawk raced to her fifth career victory while posting the fastest qualifying time of the Grade 1, $224,900 Los Alamitos Winter Derby on a busy night of trials on Saturday at Los Alamitos.
A total of 46 sophomores – 10 of them stakes winners in 2016 – competed in six 400-yard trials to the Winter Derby, which will contest its final here on Saturday, February 10. Jess Hawk will be one of 10 qualifiers that will be in action in the Winter Derby final after winning the third of six trials by a neck over Dutch Masters III’s talented Imaqtpie in a time of :19.733.
Ridden by Jesus Rios Ayala for trainer Yanet Rodriguez, Jess Hawk led from start to finish after leaving the starting gate from post number two. The homebred daughter of One Sweet Jess is out Merridoc Hawk, which won five stakes races at Los Alamitos in her career including the Grade 1 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap in 2010. Like her mother, Jess Hawk is a stakes winner at Los Alamitos. She won the Pat Hyland Handicap over colts and geldings last year and had previously finished third in both the Holiday Handicap on December 30 and Autumn Handicap on October 8. Jess Hawk has hit the board in seven of eight career starts, which include her aforementioned five wins.
“Last time we ran in the (350 yards) Holiday Handicap we needed the extra 50 yards,” Rodriguez said. “Jess Hawk ran on the outside (in the Holiday) and ran great, but the last two times she’s run on the outside she (hasn’t) grabbed a hold of the track. She likes to play around on the track. She doesn’t pay attention. When we got the number two post I really liked it. I felt this was her time. It’s all a matter of teamwork and I owe (Ayala) a lot. He’s come through for us. Mr. Enrique Gonzalez (of EG High Desert Farms) is a fabulous owner to work for and I’m very thankful for the great opportunity to train his horses. I’m very blessed to have his support.”
EG High Desert Farms finished as the second leading Quarter Horse owner at Los Alamitos with 48 wins in 2016.
Denny and Sandy Weigt’s Bannister finished with the second fastest qualifying time of :19.745 after winning the opening trial of the night. The winner of the Wild West Futurity here last year, Bannister was coming into this race after running a troubled sixth in the Holiday Handicap.
“He’s ultra-consistent and his last out, you have to throw it out,” trainer Monty Arrossa said. “He didn’t get away from the gate. Tonight he stood in there and broke like he can. This is his first time going 400 yards and he seemed to like it. We’ve been working a lot with the gate crew and they’ve helped us a lot.”
Ridden by Cesar De Alba, Bannister picked up his seventh win in 10 career starts. The Maknmoves gelding will now start preparing for the sixth stakes race of his career. He won the Beehive Futurity by daylight last year and was also fourth in the Bitterroot Futurity.
Dutch Masters III will be represented by two runners in the Winter Derby final. Imaqtpie, a filly by One Famous Eagle out of the three-time stakes winner Sizzling, finished with the third fastest time of :19.769. Ridden by Rodrigo Aceves for trainer Jaime Gomez, Imaqtpie was the runner-up to fastest qualifier Jess Hawk in their trial.
Dutch Masters III is also the co-0wner of the fifth fastest qualifier, the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity third place finisher Katella Deli, which held off two-time Grade 1 finalist King Candy to win the final trial of the night. Ridden by Carlos Huerta for Gomez, the Dutch Masters III and Paul Blanchard owned gelding covered the distance in :19.791.
“King Candy was on the lead almost the entire time,” Huerta said. “My horse is usually pretty good at the break and he had a good start tonight, but King Candy also broke fast and they ended up dueling. They both finished well, but my horse finishes really strong and he showed that form tonight. Fortunately we won. (Katella Deli) needed this race more than anything.”
The Foose gelding picked up his second win in eight outings.
Ron Hartley’s One Proud Eagle, a three-time stakes winner at Los Alamitos, finished with the fourth fastest qualifying time of :19.785. He finished third to Jess Hawk and Imaqtpie in that very productive third trial. The son of One Famous Eagle was a big winner during his 2-year-old campaign, taking the Kindergarten Futurity, John Deere Juvenile Challenge, and Holiday Handicap last year.
Rod MacPherson Jr. Living Trust’s Kiddy Up Cowgirl won the second trial of the night while posting the sixth fastest qualifying time of :19.793. Eulices Gomez piloted the Kiddy Up filly for trainer James Glenn, Jr. Bred by David Martin, Kiddy Up Cowgirl has now won three of 10 career starts while hitting the board in seven starts. She qualified to the Governor’s Cup Futurity and PCQHRA Breeders Futurity last year.
“She broke the best she’s ever broke tonight,” Glenn, Jr. said. “She has a tremendous kick at the end. Once she left the way she did, I knew that she was in pretty good shape and she pulled it through. She’s a big, big filly. As a 2-year-old going 350 they would get away from her by daylight. Now that she’s older and more mature we’re hoping that she can close that gap like she did tonight. In fact, she left on the lead. If she can close that gap and combined with that kick she’s got, she should be able to compete with those better horses.”
Abigail Kawananakoa will also have two runners in the Winter Derby final after Staggering Stride won the fourth trial and Jouet With Fire finished second to Kiddy Up Cowgirl in the second heat. Trained by Chris O’Dell, Staggering Stride posted the seventh fastest time of :19.814. The Mr Jess Perry filly is out of the Grade 1 stakes winning mare Dinastia Toll Brz. Staggering Stride is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner and champion FDD Dynasty. Cody Jensen piloted the John Andreini-bred filly to this trial victory.
Paul Jones saddled the Walk Thru Fire gelding Jouet With Fire, which was ridden by Cesar De Alba. The Kawananakoa-bred runner finished with the 10th fastest time of :19.865.
Also qualifying to the Winter Derby were Balgo Racing Team, Inc’s King Candy, now a three-time Grade 1 qualifier, and Two Feathers Series, LLC’s Blueeyedeagle, second to Staggering Stride in the fourth trial. Trained by Bret Vickery, the gelding by One Dashing Eagle came into this race having won his last three starts. King Candy, meanwhile, ran in the Ed Burke Million Futurity and Golden State Million Futurity last year. Guillermo Morales trains the gelding by One Sweet Jess.
The complete list of qualifiers is as follows: Jess Hawk (:19.733), Bannister (:19.745), Imaqtpie (:19.769), One Proud Eagle (:19.785), Katella Deli (:19.791), Kiddy Up Cowgirl (:19.793), Staggering Stride (:19.814), King Candy (:19.834), Blueeyedeagle (:19.851) and Jouet With Fire (:19.865).
What happened to Bannister in the Holiday?
“In the Holiday, he was pretty fresh,” Arrossa began. “He got in there and started looking around, I don’t know at what, maybe at the lights? He was just moving his head around. He was not paying attention. He turned his head right when the gate opened. It was just one of those bad luck nights that you try to forget. They’re hard to forget. I beat myself up bad for that one, but you have to move forward. I was looking forward to this trial. We took him to the gate a couple of extra times to school. The gate crew here has been wonderful.”