Tom Atwood and Vessels Stallion Farms’ Far Niente (left) made a triumphant return to the track while World Champion Last To Fire finished second in his season debut to Howard Nichols’ Jess Being Valiant during the trials to the Grade 1 $163,300 Vessels Maturity on Sunday at Los Alamitos.
Three trials were contested at 400 yards with the horses with the 10 fastest times advancing to the Grade 1 final to be held on Sunday, July 6. The winner of the Vessels Maturity final will join Nellie Delaney and Bon Accord in this year’s field to the $750,000 Champion of Champions.
The top two qualifying time went to trial winners Far Niente and Jess Being Valiant. Trained by Jose Hernandez, Far Niente posted the fastest time while making his first start since a fourth place finish in the PCQHA Breeders Derby on October 4. Hernandez was confident that the long layoff would be to Far Niente’s liking.
“He runs best when he’s fresh,” Hernandez said. “He did that last year and that was our game plan for this race and so far, so good.”
Saul Ramirez piloted the son of FDD Dynasty, who last year won the Grade 1 Golden State Derby. Bred by Bielau Oaks, Far Niente has won eight of 13 career starts.
“Saul did a great job riding the horse. We knew that the start was the key and then the horse would do the rest by himself. Saul is one of the best in the game. He’s a money rider, very consistent, and one of the best in the game. We needed a rider for this horse and we felt that Saul would fit him perfectly.”
Far Niente covered the distance in :19.684 and won his trial by ¾ lengths over Creole Williams.
Trained by Jaime Gomez for Howard Nichols, Jess Being Valiant was also returning to the races for the firs t since being scratched out of the Los Alamitos Winter Championship on February 16.
“He had pneumonia,” Gomez said. “We had to get him healthy and then we turned him out for a break. Once he got healthy, we had him swimming at Double Bar S Ranch. Double Bar S does a great job with the horses. I’m happy to get this win for Howard. It couldn’t happen to a better man.”
“I thought it was a strong field of horses,” Nichols said. “I didn’t know if we could hold off (the other horses). We had just enough room to win.”
Nichols now has a couple of fun weeks to look forward to at Los Alamitos. Next weekend, Nichols will be joined by his wife, Laurie, plus family members and friends at Los Alamitos, many of which will be traveling from Arizona and visiting the Orange County oval for the first time. His entourage will also have the opportunity to cheer for Nichols’ Vivid in the Ed Burke Memorial Juvenile Stakes. Nichols will then await the July 6 Vessels final with the hope that Jess Being Valiant can land a berth to the Champion of Champions.
With Raul Valenzuela aboard, Jess Being Valiant covered the distance in :19.736.
Owned by Jesus Avila and Jesus Cuevas, Last To Fire will be looking for a return to the Champion of Champions in order to defend his title after winning the prestigious quarter mile race in dominant fashion last season. The son of Walk Thru Fire was making his first outing since winning last year’s Champion of Champions on December 14. Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio for trainer Sergio Fiscal, Last To Fire broke a step behind Jess Being Valiant, but he managed to catch Melissa Miller’s stakes winner Jess Featureme Quick to finish second in the opening trial of the night.
“He did not break like he is capable of doing, but that’s understandable because he had not raced in a long time,” Nicasio said. “He got tired, but this was his first race of the season.”
“Eduardo said that the horse was tired early on, but then he caught his breath and was able to finish strongly,” said Jesus Avila’s son, Jose. “I was feeling nervous coming into this race because he had a fantastic 2013. We were anxious to see how he would come back. This was a tough first race, but we’ll see how he does in the final. (Horseshoer) David Vargas has done a great job taking care of Last To Fire’s feet. He’s feeling good and three weeks between the trials and the final will really help him.”
In addition to the Champion of Champions, Last To Fire won the Vessels Maturity and the Go Man Go Handicap last year. This was his first loss in five starts and first since running fourth in last year’s Los Alamitos Winter Championship. Bred by the Estate of Spencer Childers, Last To Fire posted the third fastest qualifying time of :19.783.
Hector A. Hernandez’s Tres Coronas Mas won the third and final trial by a neck on the way to posting the fifth fastest qualifying time of :19.803. The son of Tres Seis was second to multiple stakes winner Significant Heart at the start before rallying under jockey Cruz Mendez to win by a neck over Lila Kessinger’s strong finisher Seperate Interest.
“When I saw the break, I thought it was over for us,” Hernandez said. “But then he exploded. The final will be a different race, but I’m in it and we have a chance. If he can come back strong then I think we have a chance.”
Hernandez purchased Tres Coronas Mas privately from the stock of Vessels Stallion Farm. He campaigned the horse to a seventh place finish in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship.
“He was a good buy and we’ve had luck with him,” Hernandez said. “I started owning horses about 10 years ago. We started with some claimers. We started small, but we’ve built from there. It’s a thrill to have Tres Coronas Mas in the Vessels final.”
Jose Flores saddled the Vessels-bred runner.
The complete list of qualifiers is as follows: Far Niente (:19.684 ), Jess Being Valiant (:19.736), Last To Fire (:19.783), Jess Feature Me Quick (:19.797), Tres Coronas Mas (:19.803), Creole Williams (:19.804), Seperate Interest (:19.848), Once Over (:19.851), Significant Heart (:19.906), and Time For A Royal Dip (:19.956).
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