LARC NEWS Posted: 7/4/2021 12:53:56 AM



           The 50th running of the Grade 1, $154,800 Vessels Maturity, named in honor of the founding family of Los Alamitos Race Course, was won by 2-1 favorite Circle City, owned and bred by Ed Allred, the sole owner of the historic Orange County racetrack since 1998.

          Sired by Favorite Cartel, Circle City is out of stakes winning mare Moonlight Corona, who was bred by the famed Vessels Stallion Farm, and part of a great female family that dates back to one of the Vessels’ outstanding blue-hen mares, Ought To Go.  

          Ought to go is what Allred’s Circle City must have been thinking as he prepared for the start of the Vessels Maturity on Saturday night, as the gray gelding ran the best race of his 18-race career. He left the gate with the leaders from post number eight, before finishing powerfully like he always does on the way to scoring his seventh career victory and first in a Grade 1 stakes race. Ridden by Victor Salazar for trainer Scott Willoughby, Circle City was too strong in the second half of the race, crossing the wire ¾ lengths ahead of Juniors Quarter Horse, Inc’s Made Over, who finished a nose in front of third place finisher Redneck Ryan.  

          “When (Circle City) broke like he did, I was pretty happy because he usually finishes extremely strong,” Willoughby said. “He just kept opening up on his rivals. Victor rode a great race and I’m really proud of both of them. (Circle City) had a little trouble in the early championship this year. We just backed off him, gave him some type, let him relax, gave him some time off and he seems to have come back great.”

          A wire-to-wire winner of the Grade 2 Golden State Derby last year, Circle City was sixth in his trial to the (G1) Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship on January 24. From there, he came flying late to run third in the Kaweah Bar Handicap on May 1 before showing his closing power once again when finishing second to Up Is Up in the Vessels Maturity trial.    

          “He didn’t get away well and tried to finish but he was beat so far at the gate that night,” Willoughby said of Circle City’s Brad McKinzie trial effort. “He did it himself. He threw his head and got left. Tonight, he was focused, looked down at the racetrack and never messed up. He left there running and when he breaks, he is extremely tough to outrun.”

          After the Brad McKinzie, Circle City headed to the Steve Charles Traning Center in Romoland for a vacation.  

          “We turned him out at Steve Charles’ place for a little while and let him relax. Steve does a great job for us. I’ve turned out all of my good horses out there when they need a little break, and he does it for me. (Since returning), Circle City had been training fantastic. He trained well into the trials and ran second to a really good horse. The Kaweah Bar was a perfect race to tune him up for this race. That was always the plan, just to get him set up and ready to go. Obviously, I wanted to win the Kaweah Bar but we just wanted to be in it, have a good race and that’s exactly what happened.”

         Circle City is a full brother to last year’s Governor’s Cup Derby and Southern California Derby winner Nomadic, who is also owned and bred by Allred. Their half-brother is Remington Park track record setter Stroller. The athletic ability is no surprise, as Favorite Cartel was a tremendous runner and a Grade 1 winner at Los Alamitos and a perennial leading stallion at the national level. Moonlight Corona is a half-sister to the AQHA champion Your First Moon, who is also the dam of AQHA champion Moonist and Grade 1 winner Moonin The Eagle.  Both Moonlight Corona and Your First Moon are out of Moon Arisen, whose granddam is the outstanding Ought To Go. Born in 1967, Ought To Go is the dam of the mares Bedawee and Fishers Favorite and the stallion Ought To Be First. Bedawee  is the dam of the stallion Mr Eye Opener, while Fishers Favorite produced the stallion Fishers Dash. All those great names are part of the lineage of Circle City, one of the many fabrics in Quarter Horse racing that have connected the Vessels family to Allred, the sport’s all-time leading owner and breeder and an AQHA Hall of Fame member since 2006.  

          Circle City, whose victory in this race earned him a presumptive berth to the $600,000 Champion of Champions, added $65,016 to his career bankroll thanks to his win in the Vessels Maturity. He has now earned $373,081. The plan is for Circle City to race on California Breeders Champions Night in the Restricted Grade 1 Spencer Childers California Championship. His rivals could include stablemates Chocolatito and Nomadic.

          “But they’ll be coming off of layoffs and have not had a race yet, so Circle City will be extremely tough,” Willoughby said. “Those horses are great horses, but Circle City is going to be a great horse too. I don’t know if (this race) is the best he can be, but he sure posted a solid time that can win a lot of races.”

          For jockey Victor Salazar, his ride aboard Circle City netted him the biggest victory of his relatively new career. Salazar, who celebrated his 30th birthday last May 22, only has 214 mounts in his entire Quarter Horse riding career with 162 of those coming this year.

          “Victor has done a great job. He was our second call rider when Oscar Andrade Jr. decided to go to Ruidoso,” Willoughby said. “I hope Oscar is doing great out there and I’m sure he is because he’s a great rider. He was doing great for me here. Victor has been doing a fantastic job. We threw into the fire right away and he’s responded great. He really sits on a horse quiet and has a lot of talent. Even tonight, this is the biggest race he has ever been in, and he was calm, nice and relaxed. The horse was perfect, and they get along well.”

          Salazar, who won the Grade 2 Miss Princess Handicap with Wambui and the La Pacifica Handicap with Chance It Now, enjoyed his first ever stakes win last year when he piloted Leah Carroll to victory in the Last Chance Dash at 110 yards on December 27. He’s currently the meet’s fourth leading Quarter Horse jockey.  

          “I’m so happy because I had the blessing of winning this big race tonight and of course having the confidence of (Scott Willoughby) to give me this opportunity,” Salazar said. “We’ve worked hard with this horse and it’s great to win because everyone involved in this race puts a lot of effort in winning a race like this one.

          “I did feel some pressure after Oscar went to Ruidoso. I knew I had to give it my all because I was still not as well recognized, and this was a big opportunity. I just had to work every day and hope that I would get better and better as a person and jockey, while making the most out of every opportunity that I was trusted with by trainers to continue moving forward. There’s also pressure in every single race to do well because I want to win every single race. I’m feeling good and I just want to do my best to help the barn and the horses in the barn.”

          Ridden by Cruz Mendez for trainer Jose Flores, Made Over earned $26,316 for his runner-up effort in this race. Bred by Allred, the Favorite Cartel gelding is out of Make Over and was purchased at the Los Alamitos Equine Sale. With this effort, he’s won four of 14 starts and now has $61,530 in earnings.

          Javier Chavez and Juan Moya’s Redneck Ryan earned $18,576 for his strong third place finish in this race. Ridden by Oscar Peinado for trainer Jaime Gomez, he finished ahead of Circle City when running second in the Kaweah Bar two months ago. Spirit Foose, Cattail Cove, Mental Error, Eagles Fly Higher, Mister Tornado and Cartel Rocks completed the field. Up Is Up was scratched before the start of the racing program.


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