Owned and bred by J. Garvan Kelly and Nancy Yearsley, Nellie Delaney joined the champion and millionaire Corona Kool as the only mares to ever win the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship following a stellar effort in the 400-yard race on Sunday evening.
Piloted by Raul Valenzuela, the meet’s leading Quarter Horse jockey, for trainer Juan Aleman, Nellie Delaney scored a 1 ½ length victory over 21-1 longshot Eye On Corona in the Winter Championship. The 9-year-old Rylees Boy, the winner of last year’s Winter Championship, finished strongly for third place with Los Alamitos Super Derby runner-up Scatmandu running fourth. The win gave Nellie Delaney the first automatic berth to this year’s Champion of Champions. A dead-heat winner of the Southern California Derby last season, the talented 4-year-old mare has now won her last four starts while giving long time owners Kelly and Yearsley their first ever qualifier to the Champion of Champions.
“I’ve been in racing since the 1980s and I can’t tell you what a thrill this is,” Kelly said. “I would give up the purse money for the opportunity to be in the Champion of Champions and I think Nancy would say the same thing. It’s just a real honor to have bred one that’s made it to the biggest dance of them all.”
Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, Nellie Delaney earned $65,625 in the Winter Championship. She’s now won five of 15 career starts with lifetime earnings of $167,683 to her name. The daughter of FDD Dynasty, who covered the distance in :19.488, is from the family of 2005 Los Alamitos Million Futurity winner Value The Man, who was also a Kelly and Yearsley homebred.
“If Value The Man was standing next to Nellie Delaney you would not be able to tell them apart,” Kelly said. “Delaney’s mother (Fleeting Touch) is a half sister to Value The Man.”
Aleman is thrilled to have another Champion of Champions finalist. Among his many Champion of Champions qualifiers, the trainer qualified the mare Apollitical Time twice to the Champion of Champion and then won the prestigious race with her son, the 2010 World Champion Apollitical Jess. Aleman would love to see Nellie Delaney reach the lofty heights of the champion Apollitical Time.
“Nellie Delaney completely different to Apollitical Time,” Aleman admitted. “Nellie is a lot bigger mare and her stride is different than Apollitical Time. If she keeps getting better and better then we can make a better comparison and I think she’s capable of doing that. This filly always showed a lot of ability, even when she was in Ruidoso. She had minor surgery after the Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes, but since then she’s progressed. I don’t know how good she could be. She stumbled in the Southern California Derby, but she came back to catch (Jabuti Eagle SA) to tie for the win. She always does stand perfect in the gate and is ready to go. She just looks down the track. We’ll give her some time off and wait for the (September 28 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap).”
Nellie Delaney’s win never seemed to be in doubt. She was third at the start, but a few strides later she was a half-length ahead of Moonshine Racing’s Eye On Corona. She continued to increase her lead from there on the way to an impressive score.
“She was excellent,” Valenzuela said. “She did nothing wrong. She took off at 100 yards. I gave her a touch of the whip, but she was gone. She got away clean.”
“She’s had some bad luck in the past,” Kelly added. “She deserved to win this race. She had surgery right after the Maiden Stakes. It was just a minor clean up. She’ll be back for the Millie Vessels. I don’t think we’ll breed her during her time off. Maybe, maybe we’ll get one embryo out of her. Right now she’s a racehorse and we’ll keep her that way. Nancy couldn’t be here tonight because she’s busy with the horses and the breeding season. I wish she could have been here.”
Another person in Kelly’s mind on the night of the Winter Championship was the namesake of Nellie Delaney.
“Nellie Delaney was grandmother’s best friend back in Ireland,” he said. “She took a shine to me when I was kid. This was back in the days of World War II when I lived in Ireland. Everything was scarce in those days, but Nellie always took good care of me. I would ride my bike to her farm to help her with the cows or with her yard. She would give me a treat or make me pancakes. She was always nice to me.”
Ridden by Rodrigo Aceves for trainer Cody Joiner, Eye On Corona was second throughout on the way to earning $26,562. The 5-year-old horse by Corona Cartel has performed well at Los Alamitos since arriving from Sunland Park last fall. He was third in the Farnam Stakes on Bank of America Racing Challenge Night and then won an allowance event on December 15. He was fifth to Nellie Delaney in the Winter Championship trials before running a tremendous race in this final. A participant of the 2011 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, Eye On Corona has earned $129,204 in his 12 race career.
The ageless Rylees Boy was seventh at the start, but he flew in the final yards to grab third place. Trained by Paul Jones for Lorena Velazquez Rodrigues, Rylees Boy earned $18,750 to take his career earnings to $1,562,939 from 51 starts. Saul Ramirez, Jr. piloted the Arizona-bred son of Heza Motor Scooter. Aleman saddled Gentry Farms’ Scatmandu to earnings of $10,937 from his fourth place finish. Vodka With Ice, winner of the Grade 1 Bank of America Racing Challenge, Stel My Corona, Tres Coronas Mas, Valiant Valor and Remembering Spence completed the field. Jess Being Valiant was scratched because of a fever. He is doing much better according to his connections and figures to be back in training in the near future.