LARC NEWS Posted: 6/25/2018 3:32:06 AM

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         The late John Sperry made a positive impact in the lives of many in the Quarter Horse racing industry during his more than 30 years as an owner and breeder.     

       “John was a great man,” said Paul Jones, the leading Quarter Horse trainer of all-time, shortly after Sperry’s death last December 7. “He was a father figure to me. He (was) really good to me back when I didn't have a lot of horses. He really supported me and would give me horses to train. If I ever needed anything, he was always there for me. He was like that with a lot of people. He was just a kind person.”

         Like Jones said, Sperry was like that with a lot of people. Jeff and Kim Pitcher know that well. The Pitchers, who manage Jones’ ranch in Norco, California, had the night of their lives in Quarter Horse racing on Sunday at Los Alamitos after their royally-bred filly Wave Her Down held off a late rush by the 6-5 favorite Wicked Affair to win the Grade 1, $1,060,000 Ed Burke Million Futurity by a neck. It was a great moment for the Pitchers made possible by Sperry’s kindness.

         “John was looking for a filly last August,” Jeff Pitcher said. “He had a couple picked out. I kind of steered him away from them. I said to him, ‘There’s this filly in the Ruidoso Sale and we ought to look at her.’ He agreed and had Paul look at her. That’s kind of how we ended up acquiring her. In mid-September he called me and told me, ‘I’m going to give you my fillies if I died.’ They were (2017 champion aged mare) Jess Good Reason and Wave Her Down. He sent me transfers and a bill of sale.

         “A few days before he passed away he called me again and said, ‘I have somebody that wants to buy Jess Good Reason. Does that hurt your feelings?’ I said, ‘John, you told me you were going to give them to me when you passed away. You’re still alive. If you need to sell them both, sell them.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, the 2-year-old (Wave Her Down) is yours and nothing is going to change my mind.’

         Wave Her Down is as classy as they come. Sired by First Down Dash, she’s out of Runaway Wave, the AQHA’s all-time leading producer of money earners. Wave Her Down is a full-sister to 2006 AQHA World Champion Wave Carver and to multiple champion Ocean Runaway, who is First Down Dash’s richest ever money earner.   

       “The day he passed away, he called me and said, ‘I’m going to have them take me home and take me off the oxygen. Today is the day.’ It wasn’t probably more than an hour later when his son called me and said that John had passed away. I am still dumbfounded. I know Kim and I did a lot for him, but we never expected anything like this. This is a dream for people. I never figured I would ever own a First Down Dash, let alone this filly. I can’t say enough about John. He was a super owner. I really appreciate him. He was always really good to us. I would trade this win to have him back with us.”

        Ridden by Cody Jensen and trained by Paul Jones, Wave Her Down covered the 350 yards in :17.577 to remain undefeated in three career starts. Sent off at 5-1 odds, Lucas Racing Inc.-bred filly earned $428,400 for winning the Ed Burke Million.

         “From day one of training, everything has always been all business with her,” Pitcher continued. “She wasn’t one to mess around. She was all business all the time. I felt pretty good about her from the start. I told Paul, ‘John has a monster here.’ It’s just too bad that John didn’t live long enough to see this. I can still see his face. He’s smiling. He died on December 7, 2017. We started with her in October. He knew back then that she was a good one. She had a smooth stride. She really galloped pretty and she was very smart.”

Pitcher, 61, has been working at Jones’ ranch for more than 15 years.  

“I was a butcher and trained horses in Utah before that,” Pitcher said. “I came out to the Vessels/Schvaneveldt Sale, bought a horse named Tiene Mucho Blanco and took him home. I have an unorthodox method of training they say. I drove him on the chariot with another horse. After the first time I breezed him, I called Paul. I didn’t even know him. I told him, ‘I have the fastest horse that I’ve ever own and I’d like to bring to Los Al.’ Paul was pretty tickled with the horse. Things just went on and we just kept on talking. I once told him, ‘My elbows are gone and I need to find something easier.’ He got an opportunity to send his ranch manager (Lisa Samuell) to Ruidoso and I got the opportunity to come here and take over the operation of his ranch.”

The Pitchers were also part of the ownership that won the Grade 3 La Primera Del Ano Derby in 2017 with Start Somethin Bad, also trained by Jones.         

“Jeff and Kim have been a big part of my team,” Jones added. “They’ve been working for me for a long time. They raised (champion and 2008 Ed Burke Million winner) Foose. They raised and broke a lot of good horses that I’ve bred over the years. Foose, Favorite Cartel, they worked with Wave Carver, etc. A lot of big horses, good champions that I’ve trained, they’ve been a big part of it behind the scenes.

“When you are working at the ranch, you birth them and raise them up, break them and then you send them to me and they win these big races,” Jones added. “They’ve been a big part of my team, but they’ve done it in the shadows. Now they’re in the spotlight. (John Sperry) was one of my most loyal clients throughout the years and his legacy continues here tonight. I wish he could have still been alive to be here. It would have been awesome. Maybe he’s watching this from somewhere.”

Sperry would have surely enjoyed seeing a tremendous filly with unlimited potential.

“She showed talent from day one and never made any mistakes,” Jones added. “Her brother Wave Carver wasn’t this good as a 2-year-old. He didn’t get better until he was a 3-year-old when he won the Los Alamitos Super Derby and Champion of Champions. She’s the only filly that (Runaway Wave) has had that actually looks like a colt. (Wave Her Down) is big and kind of rangy. She looked just like Wave Carver. I had the other fillies and they were tiny. They didn’t look like any of the boys. When I first saw I thought she was a female Wave Carver, same color, built like him, but actually with a little better confirmation.”

Purchased for $80,000, Wave Her Down enjoyed a great trip from post number five in the Ed Burke Million final.  

“She got a decent start, but I wouldn’t call it a great start,” Jones said. “All the horses moved away and they parted the Red Sea. They gave her plenty of running room. It’s always a good thing in Quarter Horse racing when they get away from you and just give you room to run. This filly has a late kick. I knew she could really finish. Cody Jensen did a great job. It was the first time he rode her. It’s nice to be back in the winner’s circle with Cody for a big race. We’ve probably won more big races together than any team in Quarter Horse racing. It doesn’t get old winning these big races. It’s just as big a thrill winning this race as any race I’ve ever won.”

For Jones, this is his fourth victory in the Ed Burke Million and his second straight win after saddling 2017 AQHA champion 2-year-old colt KVN Corona to victory in last year’s race. He also won it with Separate Fire in 2011 and with Foose in ’08.    

Wave Her Down is eligible to race in the PCQHRA Breeders Futurity trials in mid-September and is also eligible to race in the Golden State Million Futurity and Ed Burke Million Futurity.  

As for Jensen, who has ridden sparingly in 2017 because of injuries to his shoulder and knee, this was his first victory in the Ed Burke Million since before it was known as the Ed Burke Million. Jensen piloted Heza Secret Diamond to victory in 2004 when the race was called the Ed Burke Memorial Futurity.

 “With the health of my knee here lately, I’ve just kind of been kicking back and just trying to get healed up,” Jensen said. “Coming back from my shoulder surgery, I only got a chance to ride a couple of races before I broke this knee up. For those guys to call me to come ride in this big a race when I haven’t been riding much, it just goes to show you that they have a lot of faith in me. I’m just glad that I was able to return the faith they had in me by pulling off this win for them. It was nice to do it for Mr. John Sperry too.  For a lot of years, he was very good to me. I won a lot of big races for him. And with the backstory on this filly, it’s just great to have this filly turn out this way.”

Legacy Ranch’s Wicked Affair earned $173,400 for her second place finish to take her career bankroll to $315,941. Jesus Rios Ayala piloted the One Sweet Jess filly from post number 10 for trainer Terry Knight.

“It wasn’t that great of a start for her, but she closed nicely,” Rios Ayala said of Wicked Affair. “The inside runner just had too big of a lead. She didn’t have any trouble. She just broke a tad slow. She could have used more distance. I think this filly can go farther. She didn’t have a great break, but I think she’ll do well in her next races.”

Jones also saddled third place finisher Jess Macho Corona for Turner Farms. The homebred gelding by Corona Cartel earned $122,400 for his game effort. He was ridden by Cesar De Alba. Dexxter, Paddy Riley, Mister Appolitical, Powerful Favorite, SC Money Maker, Striver, and Apollitical Pence completed the field.

The running of the $30,000 Ed Burke Invitational Stakes went to Ali Babe Foose, owned by Cesar Dabdoub and trained by Jaime Gomez. Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio, the colt by Foose and out of Babe On The Fly earned $16,500 for the win. He covered the distance in :17.732.

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