HOW SWEET TESS IS AS 22-1 WINNER IN THE $438,500 LOS ALAMITOS OAKS
Sent off at odds of 22-1, Edward and Theresa DeNike’s homebred filly Sweet Tess won the richest running of the Los Alamitos Oaks after outdueling 2021 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity winner Fire Fast Honey by a head on Saturday at the Southern California track.
With a rich purse of $438,500 on the line, Sweet Tess was eighth out of 10 at the start, but quickly moved to second place just behind the ultra-quick Fire Fast Honey. The two fillies led the field from there with Fire Fast Honey moving ahead of Sweet Tess by a half-length before the Washington-bred daughter of Apollitical Jess fought back from along the rail to win the 400-yard race. Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio for trainer Patricia Visscher, Sweet Tess covered the distance in :19.992 while picking up her third victory in 10 starts.
Sweet Tess’ big effort in the Los Alamitos Oaks is the third time that Visscher has saddled a winner in this race for the DeNikes. From 1978 to 2019, this race was contested under the name of the La Primera Del Año Derby and Visscher trained for the DeNikes the 2006 winner Kaniska and the 2010 winner Jumpn Beduino. The 2022 Oaks is the second richest Quarter Horse stakes win ever won by the DeNikes, second only to the $474,000 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity in 2007 won by the Visscher-trained Ancient Ruler.
“It’s been a long time that we’ve been with Patty,” said Edward DeNike of Kent, Washington. “We were a client of her husband, Hans. Pat takes care of them well. We breed all of our horses. We own and bred the mother (of Sweet Tess). With breeding, it’s up and down, it really is. It’s been down for a couple of years for us. I just called my wife, and she was with the mother of Sweet Tess (Separate Thoughts) and the mother has a weanling right now. They watched it from the barn and the guys were all kissing the mother after Sweet Tess won.
“Pat is just a wonderful trainer. They worked hard with Sweet Tess at the gate and both Nicasio and Pat did a great job. She’s a high-strung horse, but in the trials, she stood like a rock and tonight she stood like a rock. We’re going to take her off for a couple of months. She’s in the PCQHRA Breeders Derby (trials in September). She’s been here for a while, she’s not run a lot, but she’s been at the track for a year.”
Edward DeNike has over 50 years of experience in management with SSA Marine, the largest privately held marine terminal operator in the industry.
“We hire the longshoremen,” DeNike said. “We own all the big cranes. We lease the terminals from the ports, and we have contracts with all the shipping companies to do their ships. We are in every major port in the United States and in many other countries.”
With the high demands and responsibilities of his work, DeNike had not been at Los Alamitos in a few years, but his return visit was certainly worth the trip. Sweet Tess’ victory was worth $184,170, taking her career earnings to $194,805.
It was also an emotional victor for Visscher, 76, as the past few weeks have been physically challenging for her. The trainer had hip surgery at around the time of the trials, but she was back at the track to see Sweet Tess score the biggest victory of her career.
“I’m ecstatic,” Visscher said. “I have all my grandkids here, my great-granddaughter, my friend is here as well. They had never been to the races.”
Visscher joked about how winning races like the Oaks would help her move past her surgery in no time at all.
“I have seven horses right now,” she said. “I’m not wanting to have a lot of horses right now. I used to, but I was younger and healthier. I’m 76 now so I don’t need a ton of horse. The way I feel about is that you don’t need to have a lot of horses, but you need to take care of what you have and be aware of what they’re doing and what’s happening with them. I do that and have always done that. I turned her out for 60 days (after her final start of 2021), qualified her in :18.1 (on February 5) and then I ran her in the trials and now this. She’ll now go home and rest for a while. He’s not sure where he’ll want to send her for another 60 days, but we believe that the horse has to get away (from the track) for a while and then she’ll come back with a good head on her shoulders.”
Visscher credited Sweet Tess for her improved demeanor and calmness.
“She got a little antsy tonight but when (Nicasio) galloped her in the morning, I could sit my granddaughter on her. She’s so easy to take care of. I had put a flipping halter on her and she flipped and didn’t like it. I took it off her and said, ‘that’s it, no more halter on her.’ Nicasio has been working with her and that’s the best thing that could have happened.”
Nicasio, who won the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity just over three months ago with Bomb Cyclone from the rail, did it again from post number one, this time with Sweet Tess.
“In the trials, she didn’t break, but she always finishes strong,” Nicasio said. “When we got the one, I told Patty, ‘Don’t worry. I love the one. If she breaks, I don’t think they can beat me.’ She breaks and I was like, ‘C’mon, c’mon, you can do it.’ She finished strong. I am so happy for the owner and for Patty. They gave me this opportunity. My brother, Jose, was riding this filly, but he hurt his hand. That’s when I got this chance.”
Dennis Jensen and Randy Young’s Fire Fast Honey flew out of the gate, gave it her all, and finished just behind Sweet Tess in the final yards. The filly by Walk Thru Fire earned $74,545 for her runner-up finish to take her career earnings to $222,723. With Armando Cervantes up for trainer Monty Arrossa, Fire Fast Honey has finished in the top three in five of her seven career starts.
Raymond Merrill and Gregory Cullum’s Jess Dream Of It chased the leaders from the start before finishing solidly to earn third place. With Cruz Mendez up for trainer Jose Flores, Jess Dream Of It earned $52,620 for her show finish. The top three were followed by Sweet Dasha Fire, Majority Interest, Unavailable, La Beverly Hills, Call It Close, She Goes Up and Chrissy Ledoux.