All American: Coronas First Diva

This filly is giving her family a shot at the biggest prize.

Quarter Racing Journal

Coronas First Diva, with trainer Duke Shults at left and jockey James Flores at her hip. The filly is held by her groom, Memo Valdivia, who Shults said “is the one who makes it happen.”

Coronas First Diva will be the second-richest starter in the All American Futurity (G1). The winner of the the $411,600 Oklahoma Futurity (G3), the filly by Corona Cartel has won three of five career races and earned $240,773. Trained by Charles “Duke” Shults and ridden in each of her starts by James Flores, Coronas First Diva goes into the $3 million All American final with the second-fastest qualifying time. 

“She’s happy and she’s healthy,” said Shults, who went on his own last year after honing his trade as assistant trainer for horsemen such as Blane Wood, Mike Joiner and others. “We’re looking for a big race on Labor Day.”

Coronas First Diva is a family affair. She races for Sara Leann Morgan, the 20-year-old sister of the 28-year-old trainer. Both are the kids of well-known veterinarian Dr. Jill Mixer of Edmond, Oklahoma, who is married to Robert Mixer, a son of the famed artist Orren Mixer. Dr. Mixer co-owns The Mixer Ranch with her husband and bred the filly in partnership with Tom Lepic, with whom Mixer raced the two-time champion Spit Curl Jess mare Spit Curl Diva, the dam of Coronas First Diva.

With a 4 mph tailwind in the 14th heat on the second day of All American trials, Coronas First Diva burst from the gate on her way to clocking :21.500, the fastest of the day and the second-fastest overall. The bay filly won by 1 1/4 lengths over Gamey Tee Cos, a colt by Tee Cos who qualified 10th-fastest but later colicked and died.

“She always breaks like that, except in the Heritage,” said Shults, referring to the filly’s troubled trip in the $1,083,000 Heritage Place Futurity (G1). “We pointed her to the All American Futurity. We wanted her to be ready and fresh.”

Ready and fresh got Coronas First Diva into the Heritage Place Futurity. The filly won the Oklahoma Futurity by 1 3 /4 lengths on March 26.

“Then we sat on her till the Heritage trials,” Shults said. “Gave her a little work, not anything too heavy, just a little light breeze. We had been galloping her pretty heavy, so we gave her a light breeze to tuck her up and freshen her up.”

The Heritage Place Futurity trials were May 13.

“We put her in the Heritage trials and she won by 2 1/2 lengths with the third-fastest time,” he said. “But she didn’t act like the same horse in the final. They held us in the holding barn a little longer, because they wanted a bigger gap between the big races because of the crowd, and she got a little nervous and washed out a little. She didn’t fire, didn’t step away, and the horses on both sides squeezed her all the way down. When they finally came off her, she was so wore out from fighting the other horses she didn’t have anything left.”

Coronas First Diva dead-heated for fifth in the Heritage Place Futurity on June 4. Shults “took her back to the house at Edmond and let her rest for two weeks, didn’t do a whole lot with her, just let her recover.”

Coronas First Diva shipped to Ruidoso the third week in June.

“We tracked her a few days after we got out here,” he said. “She tracked awesome. She never took a deep breath any time we’d gallop her.”

Her rider sometimes has to take a deep breath or two.

“She can get a little amped up and she’s got a hair-trigger,” Flores said. “She’s pretty easy to race-ride, but I have to try to keep her calm and focused when we’re going to the gate. She always wants to go.”

Flores never had to worry about keeping her calm and focused going to the gate until the All American trials on August 28.

“We saw how big a race she ran in the Heritage Place trials after coming in fresh, so we just gave her two works here instead of running her,” Shults said. “We truly didn’t know if she could go 440, truly be a 440 horse without having an out here. That was the one question. She did get a little weak at the end on her trial race for the All American, but it really didn’t concern me because that was her first out here. The other horses really weren’t coming to her too much, and that race could only help her, fitness-wise. She’ll be a lot more ready in the finals.

“Since then, we’ve just kept her happy and healthy,” the trainer concluded. “We’ve tracked her a couple of times, let her go out, pony and play. We’ve just tried to keep her fresh and happy, she’s eating good, and everything’s pointing to her running a big race.”

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