LARC NEWS Posted: 9/21/2020 2:07:19 AM


        Michael Pohl and Martin Stacy’s Curls Happy Wagon enjoyed a splendid Los Alamitos Race Course debut, as the 5-year-old homebred mare by PYC Paint Your Wagon took control of the Grade 1, $125,000 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap right from the start and was never challenged from there in route to winning the marquee race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and upward, here on Sunday night.   

          The Oklahoma-bred Curls Happy Wagon arrived in Southern California with a solid resume that included back-to-back victories in the Decketta Stakes at Remington Park and runner-up efforts in both the Grade 1 Texas Classic Derby and Easy Date Stakes. Her victory in the Mildred Vessels is an important achievement, as it is the first Grade 1 stakes victory for Curls Happy Wagon and it also gives her a presumptive berth to the prestigious Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions to be held here on December 12. In addition, her success in the “Millie” will firmly place Curls Happy Wagon among the top names in the conversation for the title of this year’s AQHA champion aged mare.

          Ridden by Armando Cervantes for trainer Juan Aleman, Curls Happy Wagon won the 400-yard race by ¾ lengths over the 16-1 longshot Victorioso Dinastia to improve her record to eight wins in 17 career starts. Curls Happy Wagon covered the distance in :19.834 and her first-place earnings of $61,250 took her career bankroll to $308,174. She previously won the Grade 2 Decketta Stakes while at Remington Park on March 21 and she raced in both the Easy Date and Junos Request Stakes at the Oklahoma City racetrack.

          “She’s been here for about 60 days,” Aleman said. “We prepped her, we worked her (on August 29) just to let her get a hold of the track because she had never been here in California. She liked it. She worked really good. I told Armando to just go down the track (in her workout) and let her feel the track and don’t push her. When she stopped the clock in :12.1 (for 220 yards) I knew that the was going to like this track.”

          Aleman’s win with Curls Happy Wagon is his fifth in the Mildred Vessels, making him the all-time leading trainer in wins in this stakes race. Aleman, who came into this year’s running tied with Bob Gilbert with four wins each, had previously won this race with Running Bac (2002), Apollitical Time (2006), Fovee (2011) and Flash N Flash (2012).

          “Those wins with Running Bac and Apollitical Time helped me a lot as I was starting out my training career,” Aleman said. “I’ve been fortunate to have these great mares in my barn. I am grateful for the owners for giving the opportunity to train these great mares. I’ve done well with the mares.”

          Aleman also saddled the multiple graded stakes finalist Symbol Of Faith in this race. She finished in a dead-heat for fourth place with Raul Valenzuela aboard.     

 Armando has won on Symbol Of Faith and he had worked Curls Happy Wagon. I told him to pick the one he wanted to ride. It took him a whole week to decide because he said they were both really nice mares. He said this mare is so quiet in the gates that she doesn’t even move, but when they pop she takes off. I think that is why he leaned towards riding this mare.”

          Cervantes, 23, is enjoying the best year of his career. The native of Pomona, California, has won a total of 57 Quarter Horse races since starting out in 2016. Thirty of those victories have come this season, highlighted by his first ever Grade 1 victory courtesy of Curls Happy Wagon.

          “It feels great,” Cervantes said following the race. “It was great to ride such an outstanding mare and I have to think Juan Aleman for giving me the opportunity. This mare behaves wonderfully. She uses a flipping halter and she’s very professional. She stood perfectly. She left nicely. I felt that I was ahead after about 150 yards. Since I worked her, I felt her power and I really liked her.”

          “This is my first full year riding at Los Alamitos. I grew up around horses. My dad kept some horses in Chino, California and I always loved the horses. I used to visit Los Alamitos as a kid and I always wanted to be a jockey. Some of my brothers had the same dream as well but I was the smallest one. I am also the youngest of six children in my family.”

          Michael Pohl, a horseman and attorney in Montgomery, Texas, is well known for having bred and raced the late great champion PYC Paint Your Wagon, who earned over $720,000 in his racing career before enjoying tremendous success as a stallion. At Los Alamitos, Aleman has trained Pohl’s Send Me This Wagon, who finished second in the Grade 1 Charger Bar Handicap in 2017, and the stakes winning Jess Paint Your Lips, who was fifth in the Charger Bar in 2018.

          “I have to thank (racing manager) Randy Hill for the opportunity to train for Mr. Pohl,” Aleman said. “Randy and I go way back. He told me that when he had mares that were good enough to race out here, that he would send them to me. That’s how we started running these horses. Send Me This Wagon was the first one they sent me and then there were a couple of other mares. This one finally got the win. For Mr. Martin Stacy, I think this might be his first time racing a horse at Los Alamitos. It went well for him.”

          Curls Happy Wagon will likely make her next start in the Grade 2 Las Damas Handicap on November 21 before turning her attention to the Champion of Champions. The brown mare joins Bos Time Machine (Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship winner), Dexxter (Debbie Schauf Remington Park Invitational Championship winner), Chocolatito (Vessels Maturity winner) and Gold Heart Eagle V (All American Derby winner) as the first five with presumptive berths to this year’s Champion of Champions.

          Jeryl Hartley’s Victorioso Dinastia, a 3-year-old filly by Favorite Cartel, earned $26,250 for her runner-up effort in the Mildred Vessels. The homebred filly came into this race after beating rivals in the  $16,000 and $30,000 claiming ranks. Ed Allred’s Hot Little Kiddy earned $13,125 for running third. Symbol Of Faith and Ladys A Cartel finished in a dead-heat for fourth, while Tequila Sangria, who was hoping to become the first mare to win consecutive runnings of this race since Flare For Toby in 2000-2001, finished a surprising sixth. One Hot Habit completed the field.


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