LARC NEWS Posted: 7/16/2018 1:22:03 AM

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        Darling Farms, Jaime Gomez, and Ernesto Solis’ AQHA champion filly J Fire Up (photo) made a winning return to track after posting a hard-fought nose win in the first of two trials to the $203,000 Governor’s Cup Derby on Sunday at Los Alamitos. In making her first start of 2018, the Kiddy Up filly covered the 400-yard distance in :19.922 to earn the fifth fastest qualifying time, while the honor of fastest qualifier went to Fortuna Properties Inc’s Ditto Head, who covered the distance in a swift :19.728 in the final derby trial of the night.

         Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio, J Fire Up was bumped at the start, but recovered quickly to take the lead. She had to battle from there, as J. Francisco Diaz’s Casino Baccarat gave the champion a run for her money. In the end, J Fire Up did just enough to win her trial to improve her career record to eight wins in 10 starts. Led by J Figure Up and fastest qualifier Ditto Head, the horses with the 10 fastest times in the trials will return for the Governor’s Cup Derby final to be held as part of California Breeders Champions Night on Saturday, July 28.

        “I was really nervous to tell you the truth,” said Gomez, who also bred and trains J Fire Up. “This was her first time out since December, but this filly is nice. She doesn’t make too many mistakes. Four-hundred yards in her first start of the year can be challenging. I worked her pretty good three times before this race, but you need a race. They get more air with the race. She has one now. We’ll take it pretty easy with her from now until the final. I’m really happy with her race.”

          J Fire Up, who was voted the nation’s champion 2-year-old and champion 2-year-old filly, was making her first start since winning the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity on December 17. The sophomore filly had minor surgery after that race and had been on a well-deserved vacation following her seven wins in nine outings last year, which included three major futurity wins. In addition to the Two Million, J Fire Up also won the Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity and Governor’s Cup Futurity. As a result of her great season, J Fire Up set the all-time highest single season earnings figure for a filly or mare at Los Alamitos of $1,430,411.

          “I’ve ridden many nice horses in my career and this filly is one of the best,” Nicasio said. “She’s extremely good and I think she’s ready for the final. I had a little bit of trouble at the start. She broke a little high, but we caught (My Favorite Cartel) and she went on to win from there. The biggest thing is that she needed the race. She’s an excellent filly. I’m thankful to Jaime and the connections of J Fire Up.”

         Nicasio piloted J Fire Up for the first time in place of his younger brother, Jose Nicasio, who was not able to ride in these trials after being involved in a series of disqualifications during a short span. The younger Nicasio is expected to back aboard J Fire Up for the derby final.  

          The return to action of J Fire Up, overshadowed another top trial effort from Ditto Head. Ridden by Cruz Mendez for trainer Mike Casselman, the Foose gelding won his trial by a half-length over the stakes winner Black Fryday. Ditto Head has won four of five stakes trials during his career, but remains without a stakes win.

         “All I can say is that this horse runs well fresh,” Casselman said. “He’s also become a more professional horse. He used to be tough to saddle, but now he’s a lot easier to work with and be around. He’s become such a nice horse.”

        Ditto Head improved to four wins in 11 starts. In addition to his success in trials, he was third in the  Dillingham Handicap in his previous start. Ron Hartley’s Black Fryday finished with the second fastest qualifying time following his runner-up effort to Ditto Head. The complete list of qualifiers is as follows: Ditto Head (:19.728), Black Fryday (:19.807), Chance To Fire (:19.824), One More Cigarr (:19.838), J Fire Up (:19.922), Casino Baccarat (:19.924), Unblemished (:19.943),  Yanque (:19.951), Don’t Foose With Me (:19.955), and My Favorite Cartel (:19.964).

 

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