Wrangler Racing Aces Blog

Early New Year's Eve party at Sunland Park.

Early New Year's Eve party at Sunland Park.

Super Horses and Connections Meet in the Championship at Sunland Park
By Martha Claussen

Saturday’s $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park (G1) will undoubtedly be a very exciting race that should have considerable impact in AQHA Champions honors.

The story lines are compelling, with millionaire First Valiant Sign looking to add another Grade 1 victory to his resume. G.R. Carter Jr., who was coaxed out of retirement to ride at Ruidoso Downs last summer, looked like a million bucks guiding the son of Valiant Hero to victory in the Texas Classic Derby (G1) on November 12 at Lone Star Park. He is trained by Mike Joiner for the partnership of Scott Bryant, Joe Dee Brooks, Lee Lewis and R.D. and Derrol Hubbard.

Jockey Esgar Ramirez will pilot Rattle N Battle, an Oklahoma-bred son of Apollitcal Jess, who is 12-1 on the morning line. Ramirez has won 77 races this year and leads all riders in North America with purses of $4.3 million. With victories in both the All American Futurity (G1) and Derby (G1), Ramirez looks to be one of the front-runners for AQHA champion jockey honors. An upset win in the Championship at Sunland Park would add yet another layer of icing to his cake.

Ted G. Abrams Sr's homebred Jessies First Down will cap off the best campaign of his career. The 5-year-old son of FDD Dynasty, trained by Judd Kearl, has had a remarkable year, with seven wins at five different racetracks, including Grade 1 victories in the Refrigerator Handicap and Zia Park Championship. Sunland Park will be his sixth oval, following victories at Hialeah, Sam Houston, Ruidoso, Lone Star and Zia Park.

Kearl continues to lead all horsemen as the top Quarter Horse trainer of 2016. He has won 128 races this year, topping 14-time Blane Schvaneveldt Champion Trainer Paul Jones, who has 114 victories as of December 27.

Born in Tremonton, Utah, Kearl made his training debut in 1996, winning just 19 races and purses of $53,240.  Twenty years later, he is closing out the best year of his career, having posed for his picture 69 times with a record 11 stakes wins heading into the final week of the year.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” stated Kearl, who accompanied Jessies First Down from his training center in Spring, Texas, to Sunland Park on Wednesday.

Not a man of many words, Kearl is quick to credit his success to his dedicated team and quality group of owners; many, like Abrams, have been with Kearl for close to a decade. He is deeply appreciative of their support.

"They put their trust in you to do what the horses need to do," said Kearl. "So far we have done well and they have confidence in us."

Rodrigo Vallejo is the first call rider for Kearl; the native of Jalisco, Mexico, has been back in action since October.

"Jose Alvarez and Noe Villatoro are two of the riders who have done a great job for us this year,” said Kearl. "Rodrigo has always been a huge part of our success. It’s hard to describe, but we just click."

The Grade 1 Championship at Sunland Park as well as the $200,000 Sunland Park Winter Juvenile Championship, which features two-time Grade 1 winner Imperial Eagle, will close out 2016 in style. Good luck to each of the connections!

Finishing 2016 With a Bang
By Jonathan Horowitz

New Mexico will close out its rich program of Quarter Horse racing this year with an exclamation point.  The final race in the Land of Enchantment in 2016 will be the 440-yard, $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park (G1).  Jessies First Down and Zoomin Effortlessly will face off again after finishing first and second, respectively, in the 440-yard, $150,000 Zia Park Championship (G1) on November 23.  Millionaire First Valiant Sign, the recent winner of the 440-yard, $363,000 Texas Classic Derby at Lone Star Park on November 12, will be taking on older horses for the first time as part of the field of 10.

Zoomin Effortlessly is the defending champion in the Championship at Sunland Park.  He defeated Jessies First Down in the 440-yard, $200,000 All American Gold Cup (G1) at Ruidoso Downs on September 4, but Jessies First Down exacted revenge in the Zia Park Championship. However, Zoomin Effortlessly was disqualified earlier this year for his win in the Remington Park Championship due to a positive test for a prohibited drug.  Such a disqualification makes him ineligible for consideration in AQHA polls or awards.

Jessies First Down has had a long 2016 campaign for owner-breeder Ted Abrams and trainer Judd Kearl.  Saturday’s race will be his 11th start this year, tying Apollitical OK for most in the field.  Jessies First Down has seven wins, including two in Grade 1 races, and three seconds in 2016, and another strong performance on Saturday under jockey Rodrigo Vallejo could put him in consideration for AQHA year-end racing honors.

On his way to earning more than $1 million, First Valiant Sign has scored a marquee Grade 1 win as a 2-year-old in the 2015 Ruidoso Futurity and as a 3-year-old in the 2016 Texas Classic Derby.  Ridden by G.R. Carter Jr. for trainer Mike Joiner, First Valiant Sign will now try to take another step forward in his career against older horses

While First Valiant Sign, Jessies First Down, and Zoomin Effortlessly represent the three Grade 1 winners this year in the field, a potential longshot could be Roman Solider CD.  Last year, Roman Soldier CD upset First Valiant Sign in a trial to the Rainbow Futurity (G1).  He enters the Championship at Sunland Park off another upset win in the Lovington Stakes (G2) at Zia Park.

Wrangler Racing Ace Jonathan Horowitz’ Top-Four Selections:
#8 Jessies First Down
#4 First Valiant Sign
#9 Zoomin Effortlessly
#5 Roman Soldier CD

Wrangler Racing Aces in December
Please note one update in social media, which will take place on January 1. The Q-Racing Aces page on Facebook will transition to Q-Racing and our Twitter handle @HorseRacingAces will join forces with @AQHARacing. We will continue to write our weekly blog, post timely updates on Quarter Horse racing across North America and meet fans in person at racetracks across the country in 2017.  We sincerely thank you for your continued support and wish you a safe and very Happy New Year!

AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHARacing on Twitter, “like” Q-Racing on Facebook and visit www.aqharacing.com.