KISS THRU FIRE DEFENDS HER GRADE 1 CHARGER BAR HANDICAP TITLE
Gentry Farms’ homebred Kiss Thru Fire became only the third mare to win back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1, $100,000 Charger Bar Handicap following a convincing half-length victory in the 400-yard race on Sunday at Los Alamitos.
Kiss Thru Fire, a 5-year-old daughter of Walk Thru Fire, joined champions Quirky and Stylish Jess BR as the only mares to win consecutive runnings of the Charger Bar for aged mares. Quirky is the last to accomplish the feat with her victories coming in 2015 and 2016. For Kiss Thru Fire, she has now won a total of five stakes races at Los Alamitos in her career. Her four stakes wins here last year were a meet’s best for any racehorse at the Orange County oval.
Trained by Juan Aleman and ridden by teenage jockey Diego Herrera, who scored his first ever Grade 1 victory thanks to this race, Kiss Thru Fire has won eight of her last 15 starts and 11 of 27 career outings. A stakes caliber runner at ages 2 and 3, Kiss Thru Fire’s came into her own during her 4-year-old campaign last year, as her tremendous season also featured victories in the Denim N Diamonds Handicap, California Breeders Matron Stakes and Sound Dash Handicap to go along with her big moment in the Charger Bar.
“The problem with her as a 2-year-old is that she wasn’t getting out of the gate,” Aleman said. “She would get into trouble every single time. You would see her past race and she would get into trouble before she’d coming running at the end. Now we got her breaking a little better and we’ve figured her out a little bit more. She’s not breaking on top but she’s breaking where she’s not getting into trouble. She’s picked up her speed. I’ve never doubted her. Even when I had her as a 2-year-old I knew that she was special. She just wasn’t breaking.”
Fillies and mares will play an even more prominent role than usual at Los Alamitos this season after the unveiling of the stakes schedule showed an enhanced calendar for distaffers in 2022. Kiss Thru Fire figures to remain at the forefront of the division according to her connections.
“It keeps getting better out here for aged mares,” owner Robert Kirk Gentry said. “If (the mare) is still healthy and doing well there are opportunities to run. (Kiss Thru Fire) is a racehorse. She loves what she does. The racing keeps getting better out here for aged mares, so why not keep running her.”
“There’s a bunch of races for fillies and mares this year and another $100,000 race – the Abigail Kawananakoa – in June, so that’s something to look at,” Aleman said. “We’ll finish out the year, come back for the Mildred Vessels, the Las Damas and hopefully we can get into the Champion of Champions.”
Kiss Thru Fire earned $50,000 for her victory in the Charger Bar to take her career earnings to $570,400. The $35,000 Denim N Diamonds Handicap at 350 yards is next on the schedule for ages mares on February 26 followed by the $35,000 Virginia Hyland Stakes on March 13.
Herrera, who got his first ever Quarter Horse stakes win with Empty Promise in the Evening Snow Handicap on December 12, enjoyed his biggest win to date after picking up the mount on Kiss Thru Fire earlier in the evening.
“Diego rode another filly of Mr. Gentry’s and rode her very well,” Aleman said. “He’s help me in the barn, so we gave him a shot on this mare. I just told him to ‘hold on’. I said that she runs a little bit on the bit so don’t get excited and try to pull her up, just let her run.”
Herrera has been doing double duty for a few months now, riding with success at Santa Anita during the day and then adding victories during the evenings at Los Alamitos.
“I just want to tell the owner and trainer a huge ‘thank you,’” Herrera said. “This mare has a ton of heart. In the gates she was so professional. We didn’t take long so as soon as we kicked it, she meant business. She didn’t break the fastest out of there, but 200 yards and I knew I had it under my sleeve. She’s just a very professional mare. Today we had a great day at Santa Anita and tonight a huge night at Los Alamitos picking up my first Grade 1.”
Tom Maher and Richard Tobin’s Lynnder 16, one of the classiest racing mare in the country right now, was equally professional from post number five, as the 6-year-old mare was in the top two the entire way, crossing the wire only behind Kiss Thru Fire. Ridden by Edwin Escobedo, Lynnder 16 earned $17,000 for running second for trainer Jason Olmstead. Bred by James and Marilyn Helzer, the Apollitical Jess mare has now hit the board in 22 of 31 career starts with earnings of $779,188.
Ed Allred’s Roving Kind earned $10,000 for finishing third. Ridden by Victor Salazar for trainer Scott Willoughby, the 4-year-old Kiddy Up mare has now earned $66,163. She was second in three stakes races last year including the Grade 2 PCQHRA Breeders Derby. The top three finishers were followed by Reason To Fly Mv, Astranomical, Jess Lyndes Reason, Leah Carroll, Fayvorite Chick, Suite Expectations and College Scandal.