LARC NEWS Posted: 9/23/2019 1:25:23 AM


             Steve Burns’ Tequila Sangria accomplished quite a lot on Sunday night. The Favorite Cartel filly became a Grade 1 winner, beat older mares, and earned a provisional berth to the prestigious Champion of Champions, all thanks to a hard-fought victory in the Grade 1, $125,000 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap on Sunday at Los Alamitos.

             Ridden by Jesus Rios Ayala for trainer Mike Casselman, Tequila Sangria held off Leonardo Alcala’s As And Js by a nose in the 400-yard race to also become the first

3-year-old filly to win the Mildred Vessels since AQHA champion Flame N Flash in 2012. In the process, Tequila Sangria, a gray filly out of the mare Ynot Bar, has earned a spot in the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions to be held here on Saturday, December 14.  

Her connections will love the fact that Tequila Sangria was good enough to beat the top mares on the grounds even though she did not have a perfect race. She took the lead a few strides after leaving the gate from post number nine, but then started lugging out badly 100 yards into the race. Rios Ayala, currently the meet’s leading Quarter Horse rider, did an outstanding job keeping the filly’s momentum going while doing everything possible to get her back on a straight course. Tequila Sangria responded to Rios Ayala’s guidance, as she straightened out with about 150 yards to go. She powered home from there, edging the fast closing As And Js by a whisker.

            “I thought she had won, but then at the very last second I saw that inside horse (As And Js) and I thought ‘well, maybe not,’ ” said Jo Rae Burns, wife of Steve Burns. “You should have heard me yell when they showed the replay. It was really exciting. We had Militarist in the (2016) Champion of Champions. We had partners on that one. Having this one will be special.”

            Facing nine rivals, Tequila Sangria covered the 400 yards in :19.716 while winning at 3-1 odds. She earned $62,500 while picking up her fourth win in six lifetime starts. She’s now earned $101,010 in her career, which also includes a victory in the Big Lew Handicap in her previous start and a 10th place finish in last year’s Golden State Million Futurity. She entered this race after being scratched for acting up in the gate before her trial race to the Golden State Derby six weeks ago.    

            “That was a huge disappointment. She’s a super great (filly). I think she’ll do a lot more for us. We have Favorite Cartel and Ynot Bar is one of our better mares. Pairing them was a no-brainer. She’s pretty lightly raced. We’re really excited about her.”

            Casselman, who previously saddled champion aged mare Sass Me Blue to victory in the 2016 Mildred Vessels, loved the effort from the improving filly.

            “We’re just tickled to death,” Casselman said. “She deserves it. She was trying to do everything right in the (Golden State) derby trials. The horse next to her broke through the gate and she just went as hard as she could go. She hit the front and it didn’t open. She had a tough night that night. We decided to wait and try something different and it’s worked out for us.”

            Tequila Sangria also joins the likes of World Champions Blues Girl Too and Dashing Folly and multiple Grade 1 stakes winner AB What A Runner - just to mention a few - as 3-year-old fillies to have also won the Mildred Vessels.

            “We’re ecstatic about it,” Casselman added. “We ran her in the Big Lew against some very nice horses and she had the rail. She proved that night that she had a little class. We thought we would give it a whirl. We had high hopes for her and I’m glad that she pull through. We have been blessed to have some nice horses. We do the best we can with what we get.”

The sophomore filly will now look to become the first 3-year-old filly to win the Champion of Champions since Blues Girl Too in 2007.  And for the record, seven 3-year-old fillies have won the Champion of Champions since the first running of that race in 1972.

“We’ll be ready for that,” Casselman added. “That’ll be our main objective.”

            Ridden by Jose Nicasio for trainer Monty Arrossa, As And Js earned $21,250 for her runner-up effort. The 5-year-old by Apollitical Jess was looking to become the first mare to win the Mildred Vessels in her Los Alamitos debut. She surely came close to doing so. Bred by Five Puig Racing LLC, As And Js has now earned $480,759 in her outstanding 21-race career.

            Bobby Simmons’ Suze Returns was also trying to win the Millie Vessels in her first ever outing at Los Alamitos. The 3-year-old filly by High Rate Of Return was second early on in this race before the others flew alongside of her, while she held strong for third. The Juan Carlos Gonzalez-trainee came into this race after running third behind Rustys Miracle and Apocalyptical Jess in a star-laden trial to the All American Derby on August 18. Rustys Miracle went on to win the All American Derby final and a berth to the Champion of Champions, while Apocalyptical Jess won the All American Futurity and was an AQHA champion last year.

            Ed Allred’s Tough To Figure finished fourth and was followed by Matilda Czech, Thermonuclear Energy, Madam Of Fire MV, Strawfinders Jessee, Fenian Faith, and La Rusa.


The Bank of America Challenge Championship, the Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship, the Los Alamitos Super Derby and the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials (a minimum of two berths) are the five remaining races carrying an automatic starting berth to the Champion of Champions, which will be contested on Saturday, December 14 at 440 yards.




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