Challenge Championships: Bracing for the Juvenile

Brace For Bernal carries the hopes of his small breeder in the John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship.

By Andrea Caudill
Q-Racing Journal
October 22, 2012

When Brace For Bernal thundered across the finish line of the September 30 John Deere Will Rogers Juvenile Challenge, he carried the hopes of his breeder and owner – Joaquin Lopez and his father, Noel Lopez Prieto of Canadian, Texas. And with the win, he picked up a ticket to the October 27, $150,000 John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2).

Canadian, Texas, is a small town on the banks of the Canadian river, in the northwest corner of the Texas panhandle. Noel, who works on trucks, is a Mexican native who moved to the U.S. in the 1970s. He was around match racing while growing up and carried the love of the sport.

“It’s just in your blood, you know?” Noel says. “When I moved into Canadian, I ran into some trainers….I met Luis Villafranco, and he gave me an opportunity to start running some.” 

The Lopez family gives much credit for their success to Villafranco and his team, including assistant trainer Carlos Ruiz.

Noel and Joaquin have five racehorses, and only four broodmares. Among the best horses they have raced is Eyesa Storm Too, who in 2008 won the Eastex Handicap (G2) and finished third in the Bank of America Oklahoma Championship Challenge (G1) while earning $188,725 in his career, and stakes winner and Grade 1-placed runner Heza Smooth Gambler ($156,386). They also bred and race stakes winner Just Wannabe Postoak (Royal Blue Chew Chew-Nocoronajustbud by Strawflyin Buds), an earner of $113,265.

Brace For Bernal is from the second crop of the stallion Furyofthewind. The stallion, who stands at Bob Moore Farms in Norman, Oklahoma, has from three crops sired the earners of more than $1.7 million, including Restricted Grade 2 winners Quatro Menudos ($300,386) and Fury Of The Storm ($253,191). Brace For Bernal has won two of six starts, with an additional second place finish, and earned $28,089.

Joaquin bred the colt out of the Shazoom mare Zoom Bracer. The mare won or placed in 15 of 22 starts, with career earnings of $53,953. They claimed the mare for $7,500 in 2007, when she was 4. Brace For Bernal is her first foal.

“We have been blessed,” Noel says. “We have good mares.”

Brace For Bernal is a flashy dark brown, near black colt with a unique tail streaked with white hair.

“He was a beautiful baby,” Noel says.

Brace For Bernal debuted at Remington Park under the tutelage of Villafranco. He broke his maiden at Fair Meadows at Tulsa in June, and entered stakes company a few weeks later. On August 4, he rallied late in the 350-yard, $22,000 Cherokee Nation Stakes and finished second to Jessta Lil Spitfire.

He then contested the John Deere trials, where he was fourth to fastest-qualifier River Wind.

“We had trouble with him at the gates, he doesn’t concentrate,” explains Noel. “The jockey say maybe spend more time at the gates, he break a little better.”

Villafranco worked with the colt extensively and, his owner says, it helped Brace For Bernal a lot.

“He broke with them, then the other horse, River Wind, was in front,” Noel says. “About 300 yards, we catch up with him. He started catching up and the last three jumps, he put about three-quarters of a length on him. He really run good. The boys at the ranch, the trainers, have done a really good job with him.”

Brace For Bernal is bracing for the deepest test of his life with the John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2) at Prairie Meadows. The Lopez family will be there watching.

“The people up in Iowa, they are giving a lot of effort,” Lopez said. “They are so nice. I’m glad they’re doing the Championship up there. We run there before, and we ran in California. These guys in Iowa are really friendly people, and they really want you there. They sent me an invitation and all the information about the track. They are really trying, and I appreciate that. I really love the Challenge program.”

The 20th Bank of America Challenge Championships are October 27 at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa. Watch the festivities live on Q-Racing Video at and stay tuned to complete coverage from the Q-Racing Journal at