Q-Racing Blog: Onward

Moving on to the Champion of Champions.

Moving on to the Champion of Champions.

Another starting spot in the $600,000 Champion of Champions (G1) was filled when Reliance Ranches LLC’s Big Lew handled his rivals in the $767,750 Los Alamitos Super Derby (G1).

The colt is the fifth qualifier expected for the Champion of Champions and the other five runners will be determined in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on November 13. The possible Directors Trials participants include Far Niente, Dutcher, Viento Negro, Fiery Kimbo, El Duero, Forget It and Eyesa Famous Eagle. Quirky is expected to pass on the Directors Trials and point to defending her title in the Charger Bar Handicap (G1).

Big Lew’s win in the Super Derby was a replay of the 1980s when his trainer Mike Robbins won with world champions Sgt Pepper Feature and Dashs Dream. They each won the Los Alamitos Derby and the Champion of Champions. Dashs Dream won both races as a 3-year-old while Sgt Pepper Feature won the Champion of Champions the year after his Los Alamitos Derby score. In 1991, Robbins won the Champion of Champions with Special Leader.

A son of Corona Cartel, Big Lew gained his first Grade 1 stakes victory in the Los Alamitos Super Derby. “We just changed a few things with him and it helped,” said Robbins. “He is gentle, quiet and a neat horse. Then he gives 110 percent on the track every time.

“He came out of the (Los Alamitos Super Derby) great,” said Robbins. There won’t be any change in his training routine leading up to the Champion of Champions.” It’s the time-proven strategy of keep ’em fit and keep ’em happy.

Big Lew is a prime stallion prospect, especially now with his important Grade 1 win. “I sure wouldn’t hesitate to breed to him. He is really the total package as a stallion prospect,” said Robbins.

Big Lew could be joining the likes of the Robbins-trained Sgt Pepper Feature, Dashs Dream or Special Leader.

Sgt Pepper Feature is the horse who “made” Robbins as a trainer. A horse with many fans, Sgt Pepper Feature won the 1981 Los Alamitos Derby and was a very close second to arch-rival Denim N Diamonds in that year’s Champion of Champions. The gelding came back in 1982 to defeat Denim N Diamonds in the Champion of Champions.

“The next year (1982), he was just a better horse,” said Robbins.

“Pepper” moved to the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions upon retirement. He represented the American Quarter Horse and was adored by his attendants because of his willing demeanor. He is buried at the Horse Park’s Memorial Walk of Champions along with Thoroughbreds Alysheba, Cigar, Forego and John Henry, and Standardbreds Cam Fella and Rambling Willie.

Joe Kirk Fulton’s Dashs Dream was remarkable. Besides her championship abilities as a racehorse, the Dash For Cash daughter was a sweetheart and looked like a world champion halter horse. Just gorgeous.

I recall seeing her come back from a gallop at Los Alamitos under Danny Cardoza. He got off her in front of a hitching post at Robbins’ barn and Cardoza just wrapped the reins around the bar on the hitching post and unsaddled her. Just like an old working gelding.

“I wasn’t worried about her in the Champion of Champions,” said Robbins. “I don’t know what could have beat her that year.”

Also owned by Fulton, Special Leader is an example of patience. “We took chips out of him at 2 and then at 3,” said Robbins. “He ran big as a 4-year-old. It was just a matter of time. Joe Kirk let me take my time with him.”

Also qualified for the Champion of Champions are AJs High, He Looks Hot, Sass Me Blue and Heza Dasha Fire.

Michael Teel’s homebred AJs High, by Apollitical Jess, earned his start in the Champion of Champions with a win in the $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1) over the Los Alamitos strip. The Charlton Hunt-trained gelding has five wins and two seconds from seven starts this year. He also won the $100,000 Sooner State Stakes (RG1) and the $66,690 Bank of America Canterbury Park Challenge in 2016.

Dr. Ed Allred’s homebred He Looks Hot showed his grit when he won the 2014 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1), took 2015 off because of two nearly fatal colic surgeries and then won the $148,960 Vessels Maturity (G1) this past summer. The Scott Willoughby-trained Walk Thru Fire gelding dominated the $25,000 Nutrena Stakes over 440 yards in his most recent start.

Lucky Seven Ranch’s Sass Me Blue defines consistency. The Valiant Hero filly from the Mike Casselman barn boasts six wins, four seconds and two thirds from 13 starts. She earned her start in the Champion of Champions when she narrowly won the $100,000 Mildred Vessels Handicap (G1) over distaffers in her latest effort.

S-Quarter K LLC’s homebred Heza Dasha Fire, the defending world champion and Champion of Champion winner, ranks as the probable early favorite for the Champion of Champions. A year ago, he pulled off the Los Alamitos Super Derby-Champion of Champions double to secure his world title. This year, the homebred comes off wins in the $100,000 Go Man Go Handicap (G1) and the $125,000 Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Championship (G1). He was the strong odds-on favorite in each race for trainer Jose Flores.

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.