The great champion Ochoa had a spectacular Los Alamitos debut, as the sport’s all-time leading money winner posted what his trainer and jockey referred to as one of the best races of his sparkling career in winning Sunday’s Grade 1 $150,000 Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship.
Ochoa, an AQHA champion as a 2 and 3-year-old, raced flawlessly from post number seven en route to winning the Los Alamitos Championship by ¾ lengths over 2012 champion 3-year-old colt Hez Our Secret with Jess Lips finishing another neck back in third. The champion millionaire Rylees Boy crossed the wire fourth with defending Los Alamitos Championship winner Chivalry SR running fifth. Priceless Feature, Creole Williams, Really A Fantasy, Aha Moment and JM Blue Light completed the field. Ridden by Roy Baldillez, Ochoa covered the 440-yards in :21.276.
Trained by Dwayne “Sleepy” Gilbreath for owners J Bar 7 Ranch, Monte and Katsy Cluck and Doug Benson, Ochoa earned $75,000 for the win to make him the first Quarter Horse in racing history to go over the $2.7 million mark in career earnings. The son of Tres Seis has now earned $2,762,615 while winning 11 of 15 starts. The victory in the Los Alamitos Championship also gave Ochoa an automatic berth to the December 14 Champion of Champions and a chance to become the first sprinter to ever win the All American Futurity, All American Derby and also the Champion of Champions. Only two All American Futurity winners (Easy Date and Refrigerator) have gone on to win the Champion of Champions and only four All American Derby winners (Justanold Love, Dashs Dream, Dash For Speed and See Me Do It) have also won the sport’s most prestigious race for older horses.
“This was one of his better races ever,” Gilbreath said. “He broke pretty good tonight. We wanted to get him back into the Champion of Champions. That was our goal. He qualified to the Champion of Champions last year, but he had a few issues that we wanted to take care so decided to stop and take care of them first before bringing him back for this year.”
A winner of six of eight starts in 2012, Ochoa has won two of three starts this season. He won the Mr Jet Moore Handicap at Ruidoso Downs prior to his Southern California debut and was second to Priceless Feature in the Remington Park Invitational Championship earlier this year.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career,” Gilbreath added. “I’ve been training for 50 years and it took me 50 years to find Ochoa. He’s a great horse and he’s been at the right place at the right time. We’ve tried to take good care of him and we’ve run him where the money has been and so far it’s worked. They only have so many races in them.”
Ochoa came to Los Alamitos in mid-August to begin preparing for his California campaign. He was nominated to run in the Go Man Go Handicap on September 15, but his connections opted to wait for the Los Alamitos Championship. Assistant trainer James Lackey, who as a jockey won the Los Alamitos Championship twice and the Champion of Champions twice, has been caring for Ochoa during his stay in Orange County.
“I thought Lackey was going to wash out on me tonight,” added Gilbreath with a smile. “I was having fun with Lackey tonight. He said he didn’t get nervous when he rode, but he was a little nervous before this race. He’ll sleep pretty good tonight.”
“That race was unbelievable,” Lackey added. “We have good group working here. His groom Antonio Ruiz did a great job with Ochoa. When Ochoa came up to get saddled he looked ready. He looked great warming up. He had wanted to (run) for a few weeks now.”
In the winner’s circle after the race, Ochoa’s connections were all smiles following another great effort by the superstar bred by John Jones Jr. Interests Ltd.
“He’s something else isn’t he?” said owner Monte Cluck. “I can’t wait to see the finish line picture to see his ears pricked up. (Roy) never used the whip on him tonight. It’s an honor to be involved with this horse. It’s all about this horse.”
“There’s nothing to compare it to,” added owner Doug Benson. “He’s a once in a lifetime horse. He’s actually a once in many lifetimes type of a horse. He’s the king. It’s tough to put into words. When he has room to run, it’s tough to beat him. They were not going to beat him tonight and hopefully not in the Champion of Champions.”
Veteran rider Roy Baldillez was also in agreement that this was Ochoa at his finest.
“That is one of his best races ever,” said the jockey. “He stood like he was supposed to and he ran a full race. He was focused the entire way. The time was pretty fast and you have to give a lot of the credit to Lackey. He’s been up here with him and he’s done a superb job. I felt like Cody (Jensen’s) horse (Chivalry SR) outbroke him by a little bit, but after a couple of jumps (Ochoa) was in front. He’s at the top of the list as far as the best horses that I’ve ridden. I’ve ridden some good one, but he stands out among them. He’s a great animal. Even when he has not won, it’s only been because of a little bobble or something like that. Priceless Feature beat us at the beginning of the year, but that was Ochoa’s first race of the year.”
It was a great night for Ochoa and as far as “Sleepy” there was only one other thing that could have made the evening better.
“I miss my old friend Blane Schvaneveldt not being here,” he said. “We would always have a good time together. I raced here in 1986-87 for the winter meet and I really enjoyed spending time with Blane.”
Trained by Trey Wood for Johnny Trotter, Hez Our Secret was eighth at the start before flying in the final 220 yards to finish a strong second in the Los Alamitos Championship. Ridden by Ricky Ramirez, the horse by First Down Dash earned $25,500 to take his career earnings to $855,051.
“Hez Our Secret ran his eyeballs out tonight,” said assistant trainer Paul Leal. “We’ve run against Ochoa twice and we’ve finished second to him twice. Ochoa is great horse, but I’m very proud of our horse and the way he ran.”
Valeriano Racing Stables LLC’s Jess Lips broke in ninth place, but like Hez Our Secret he also finished powerfully to earn third place money of $15,000. Eddie Willis saddled the horse by Mr Jess Perry, who was ridden by Jay Conklin.
“I’ll put Jess Lips in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials,” Willis said. “That’s the reason we brought him out here. He’s always done well at Los Alamitos. That was a good race for him not being here very long. He likes this track. Priceless Feature needed a race after being off a long time. He’ll be a lot better when the money is on the line in the Champion of Champions. That’s the best race (Ochoa) has run in his career. I’ve watched all of his races and that’s the best he’s ever run. I don’t mind being outrun by a good horse.”
Jockey Roy Baldillez has had the good fortune of riding Ochoa and also World Champion Cold Cash 123 Ochoa for trainer Sleepy Gilbreath over the past couple of years. The 53-year-old jockey, who piloted Cold Cash 123 to victory in the Go Man Go Handicap last year, has an appreciation for Sleepy that is clearly second to none.
“Sleepy is a super good man,” Baldillez said. “He’s been good to me through the years and he’s stuck with me through thick and thin. I started working with him in 1986 at Phillips Ranch breaking babies. I went to ride on my own in 1988 and we hooked up again in the 1990s. I rode (champion 3-year-old filly and champion aged mare) Significant Speed for him and we’ve been together ever since. He’s a superb horseman and a great man.”