All American: Pair of Eagles

Juan Gonzalez will saddle De La Eagle and Magestic Eagle in All American Derby.

Quarter Racing Journal

Juan Gonzalez holds De La Eagle, with son and assistant trainer Juan Carlos at left in photo and wife Patricia. PHOTO: Richard Chamberlain

Third times a charm, right? Juan Gonzalez has already won the All American Futurity (G1) twice, with By By JJ in 2003 and Handsome Jack Flash in 2013. Now the trainer from El Paso, Texas, is going for his third All American, this time in the $1.3 million Derby, where he will send out third-fastest qualifier De La Eagle and 10th-fastest Magestic Eagle in one of American Quarter Horse racing’s biggest Grade 1 test for 3-year-olds.

Both are geldings, both are by One Famous Eagle, both are out of First Down Dash mares. Bred by Burnett Ranches in Texas, De La Eagle is one of seven winners from 15 starters out of the unraced La Reina De La Noche, and is a half-brother to the stakes-winning Azoom mare Zoomin Daphne ($73,601). De La Eagle races for Jose and David Mora’s Cream Of The Crop Inc. of El Paso, Texas.

Magestic Eagle is one of two winners from five starters out of the stakes-winning Catalina Fantasy, who has produced the earners of more than $100,000. Bred by Jim Ware’s Ware Farms at Milsap, Texas, Magestic Eagle races for Victor Diaz, who raced champion Royal Down Dash ($405,384).

“The One Famous Eagles, from our experience, are real easygoing and really easy to train,” Gonzalez says. “But Magestic Eagle – well, we tried to keep him a stallion, but he was a little hard, so we cut him. And he completely changed. Now he’s really easy to handle and to train.

“You can do anything with him,” he continues. “He’s very easy to work with, you don’t have any trouble when you clip him or do anything else. Anything you do with ‘Magestic’ now is easy – anything.”

Gonzalez has done a few things recently. With a career record of 10-1-4-1 and earnings of $79,040, Magestic Eagle came into the August 20 Derby trials off a well-beaten effort in the July 22 Rainbow Derby (G1), where he finished almost three lengths off the pace of Hold Air Hostage.

“The most relevant change we made with him after the Rainbow and coming into the All American trials was to take the blinkers off,” he says. “Before we took the blinkers off, Magestic usually was slow in the beginning, slow in the middle and really strong at the end. Now, with the change, he’s strong at the beginning, kind of easy midway through, and then really strong again at the end. In the trials, it proved to help him. He did a lot better.”

Magestic Eagle appreciated the help. He drew in the same trial as Hold Air Hostage, who won by more than three lengths while setting the fastest qualifying time.

“In the trials, Magestic broke really well, like we expected,” the trainer says. “Then halfway through the race, he kind of eased up a bit and that’s when they caught up to him. Now, we knew going in that Hold Air Hostage would kill the field, but we were hoping for a good second – we got a good third. But we got a good time, too, and we ended up inside.”

Clocking :21.646, Magestic Eagle pulled up well from the trials.

“Since then, we’ve taken him to the track three times,” Gonzalez says, “once with a pony, once for a full gallop and schooling in the gate, and then once for a very light and short gallop.”

And then there’s De La Eagle. With a lifetime record of 10-2-5 (1)-0 and earnings of $57,802, De La Eagle last year overcame a bad break to finish second by a nose in the West Texas Juvenile Stakes (for horses that ran in the trials for the West Texas Futurity (G2)) and finished well back in champion A Revenant’s Rainbow Futurity (G1).

“De La Eagle is like most One Famous Eagles – real easy to handle, just a real chill horse,” Gonzalez says. “He’s really always been a little easier to handle than Magestic Eagle is now. But both of them can run.”

It’s taken the trainer some experimenting to get De La Eagle to where he is now.

“We’ve made a lot of changes with De La Eagle,” Gonzalez declares. “He should have already made at least 200 grand. He’s a really talented horse. We put blinkers on him, it didn’t work, we took them off. We put a flipping halter on him, it didn’t work, we took it off. He ran in the Rainbow Futurity (G1), and right out of the gate he stumbled, went down, literally kissed the floor. He did the same thing in the consolation for the West Texas Futurity. He wants to go, he wants to get out of there like a bullet and just breaks so hard, the ground gives out under him.”

The changes seem to be working. De La Eagle in the trials clocked :21.444 while also pulling in second- and third-place finishers The Marfa Lights and One Sweet Racy.

In the All American final, De La Eagle will break from the 4 post, while Magestic Eagle leaves from the 6, with The Marfa Lights between them. In the meantime, the Eagles will take it easy.

“We’ll probably take both of them out one more time, just to see the sun, get some air, maybe graze some grass,” Gonzalez says. “It’ll be by hand and for just 15 minutes or so, that’s it, and then we’ll put them back in their stalls and let them rest.”

Whatever happens, the trainer’s wife, Patricia, plans to rest, oh, sometime next week.

“In all the years we’ve been here, we’ve won the All American Futurity twice, but never the Derby,” she says. “This would be our first. We’re very excited. Some friends back home asked me about it, and I told them I was excited and nervous. They said, oh, you ought not be nervous, you’ve done this before. Well, you know what? If you’re not excited and nervous, it’s probably time to quit.”

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