Abigail Kawananakoa’s Native Tea Rose finished powerfully while beating a field that included Champion of Champions participants Check N Fetch and Significant Heart and six other talented distaffers in the Grade 2 $100,000 Charger Bar Handicap on Sunday at Los Alamitos Race Course.
Ridden by Carlos Huerta, who picked up the amount just a few hours earlier, Native Tea Rose was fifth at the start, but found her top gear soon after that and eventually moved ahead of two-time Grade 1 winner Check N Fetch to win the Charger Bar by a neck. Trained by Paul Jones, the 4-year-old mare by First Down Dash covered the 400 yards in :19.682 from post number four to give her back –to-back stakes victories. Native Tea Rose defeated several of her opponents in this race in the Las Damas Handicap in her previous start on December 8. Kawananakoa saw the Las Damas victory as a sign of positive things to come for Native Tea Rose.
“She was always one of our favorite horses and she did some good things as a 3-year-old last season,” said Kawananakoa. “It all came together for her in the Las Damas. When I watched the way she finished the race in the Las Damas, I thought that she was starting to really figure out racing. She was saying ‘this is what it’s all about.’ She showed it tonight that she is really starting to figure things out. We’ll race her one more time and then I’ll say what all good owners say, ‘I’ll leave it to the trainer to decide what’s next.’ ”
Shortly after enjoying the winner’s circle presentation for the Charger Bar, Kawananakoa, who is a direct descendant of the last queen of Hawaii, was on the phone, smiling while speaking to trainer Paul Jones. The trainer, who after another extremely busy training season in 2013, is currently vacationing in Hawaii.
“Paul just said that there’s something backwards with this picture,” shared Kawananakoa. “He said, ‘I’m here in Hawaii watching the winner’s circle, while you are in the California.’ I told him that that was perfectly fine and to keep enjoying his well deserved vacation.”
Sent off at odds of 7-1, Native Tea Rose improved her record to five wins from 10 starts. Fourth in the 2012 All American Futurity, she earned $51,000 for the win to take her career bankroll to $237,430.
“She broke a little slow, but she closed powerfully,” Huerta said. “She ran an excellent race.”
Huerta picked up the amount after Native Tea Rose’s scheduled rider, Saul Ramirez Jr., was unable to travel to California from out of state.
“Saul’s original flight was postponed because of bad weather,” explained Jones’ assistant trainer, Roque Gonzalez. “Paul and I looked at riders available and we decided on Huerta because he helps us a lot by galloping horses in the morning. He works very hard so we felt that he deserved the opportunity. It was nice to see him win.”
“I was off for the night and was relaxing at home when Roque called,” Huerta said. “He told me if I wanted to ride in the 8th race. I knew that the 8th race was the big race of the night so I jumped at the chance to ride a good mare in a big race.”
All along, Jones felt that Native Tea Rose had a good chance to score in the Charger Bar.
“She’s talented, she’s lightly races and she was coming into the race fresh,” said Jones via telephone. “I thought she had a lot of positives going for her in this race. Check N Fetch and Significant Heart were coming off a tough race in the Champion of Champions not that long ago. The Champion of Champions is also at 440 yards and against a really tough field. I thought that because of those reasons that Native Tea Rose had a good chance in this race.”
In addition to Native Tea Rose, Jones also saddled Charger Bar runner-up Check N Fetch, fourth place finisher Im A Feature Girl, fifth place finisher Thisfeatureisspecial and sixth place finisher Significant Heart.
“It’s tough when you have five horses in a race like the Charger Bar because you want all five to do well,” Jones added. “You just hope that one of the five steps up to do well. Check N Fetch has done it, Thisfeatureisspecial has done it and Significant Heart has done it well. It was Native Tea Rose’s time to shine.”
Native Tea Rose is out of the multiple stakes winner St Pats Tea, a Louisiana-bred mare from the stock on Edward Poston. Racing for owners Bob and Jerry Ann Gaston, St Pats Tea won the Grade 2 $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Quarter Horse Derby and the Grade 3 $43,880 TQHA Sires’ Cup Derby in 2001. For her career, she earned over $95,000 while winning five of 13 starts.
Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez’s Check N Fetch posted another big effort while running second in the Charger Bar on Sunday. Fifth in the Champion of Champions on December 14, the 6-year-old Check Him Out mare earned $16,000 in the Charger Bar. She’s been in the top three in nine of her last 11 starts at Los Alamitos, while winning five stakes races during that span. She’s earned $289,312 in her 23-race career.
Dean Frey’s Shez Jess Toxic has been a model of consistency as well. The daughter of Take Off Jess ran third in the Charger Bar to give her 16 finishes in the top three in 17 career starts. Her only out of the money finish ever in a fourth place in last year’s Charger Bar. Shez Jess Toxic earned $10,000 to take her earnings to $217,607. Jorge Haddad’s Im A Feature Girl earned $7,000 for running fourth. She was followed across the wire by Thisfeatureisspecial, Significant Heart, Curlie Cue, Flame N Flash and Shanachee.