Challenge: Idaho Invasion

Idaho trainer Monty Arrossa has tough Challenge Championship horses.

Q-Racing Journal

John Deere Juvenile runner Jess Curl My Prize. PHOTO: Andrea Caudill

He is 2014’s leading Challenge trainer, and he has a full hand for Saturday’s Challenge Championships. Idaho trainer Monty Arrossa won this year’s year-end Farnam Champion Trainer award, earning himself $5,000, a Double J saddle, a custom buckle from Montana Silversmiths and various products from Farnam.

Arrossa is scheduled to saddle four horses during Saturday’s championship races at Prairie Meadows. Among them are reigning Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1) winner Vodka With Ice, Merial Distaff Challenge Championship (G1) contender Shez Jess Toxic, and John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2) contenders Jess Curl My Prize and Jaymee Love. Two of those, Shez Jess Toxic and Jess Curl My Prize, have been installed as the morning line favorites for their respective races.

Gerardo Prado’s Vodka With Ice exploded onto the national stage last year with a victory over world champion Cold Cash 123 in the $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship. The Michael Pohl-bred gelding is by Stoli and out of the Extra Easy mare Hips So Fine. He was, of course, an experienced stakes horse prior to that, with five stakes wins to his credit.

From six starts this year, Vodka With Ice has won two. He has won 14 of 55 career starts and earned $418,421.

Arrossa got the horse in March, and saw the horse win the Bank of America Les Bois Championship Challenge on August 9 to qualify him for an attempted repeat. In between, the horse prepped for the Championship by running a sharpening 300-yard allowance at Prairie Meadows, in which he finished fifth.

“He’s just a really classy horse,” Arrossa says of the veteran runner, and noted that he tried to get all his horses experience at Prairie Meadows, either by a race or working under lights. 

Jess Curl My Prize races for Denny and Sandy Weigt of Jerome, Idaho, who paid $20,500 for the yearling at last year’s Heritage Place Yearling Sale. The filly bred by Weetona Stanley in Oklahoma is by Spit Curl Jess and out of the Oak Tree Special mare First Prize Joy.

“I just really liked her family, just a great pedigree and just really liked her conformation,” Arrossa explains. “She was pretty hot when we started breaking her, so we just took our time with her.”

Jess Curl My Prize debuted in an April maiden race at the Gem County Fair in Idaho, winning by disqualification.

“She just slowly started coming along, getting a little better, a little better,” Arrossa says.

She then went to Les Bois and won her Knight Transportation Futurity trial with plenty left.

“She really changed after that,” he says. “She got real professional and her mind got really good.”

Jess Curl My Prize proceeded to click off victories in the $39,900 Knight Transportation Futurity, then a Bitterroot Futurity trial and the $150,324 Bitterroot Futurity (R) final. She stumbled at the start of her John Deere Les Bois Juvenile Challenge trial to finish second, but came back to win the $48,056 final on August 9 by a nose.

“She’s been ultra-consistent and very sound,” Arrossa says. “She’s a pleasure to train, and is very business minded.”

Preparing for the Challenge Championships since August, Arrossa worked her 220 yards from the gate under the lights and saw her go in :11.61 in preparation.

Both Shez Jess Toxic and Jaymee Love are homebreds owned by Dean Frey. The Stanton, California-based horseman this year won the John Deere Champion Owner award, and has sent his horses to Arrossa for the Championships. 

Shez Jess Toxic (Take Off Jess-Dashing Fly Lady by Victory Dash) has been ultra-consistent in her 22-race career. The 5-year-old mare will celebrate her third trip to the Championships. Her others include a victory in the 2011 Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2) and a third-place run in the 2013 Distaff Challenge Championship (G1). She has won or placed in 19 of those races and earned $232,921.

The classy and experienced mare stepped off the trailer at Prairie Meadows without a hair out of place, and has been enjoying a daily hand-graze snack on the lush green grass outside the barns. 

Jaymee Love (Ivory James-Love To Finish First by Separatist) has made only four starts in her young career. She has made them count, though, as her most recent was the $29,248 John Deere Evergreen Juvenile Challenge. In that race, she crossed the wire behind stablemate Gentlemans Daughter, but was moved to first due to interference.

She has won two of four starts and earned $16,516. The filly, as with Jess Curl My Prize, worked 220 yards under the lights, working in :11.86.

“This is one of the best racetracks I’ve ever been to,” Arrossa adds of Prairie Meadows. “The hospitality has been second to none. They have been so welcoming, and I’m considering coming back here next year for their whole entire meet. It’s a wonderful facility, the office staff and everybody has just been very accommodating. It’s a long ways for us to travel from Idaho, but I’m glad we made the trip.”

The Bank of America Challenge Championships are October 18 at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa. Stay tuned to complete coverage from the Q-Racing Journal at www.aqharacing.com.