Moonist is Fastest Los Alamitos Winter Championship Qualifier

The two-time champion won the first of two trials on Sunday.

Q-Racing Journal

Two-time champion Moonist defeated reigning world champion Heza Dasha Fire in the first of two Los Alamitos Winter Championship trials. PHOTO: Scott Martinez

Ron Hartley's Moonist, a two-time champion and the sport's reigning champion aged horse, won the first of two Los Alamitos Winter Championship (G1) trials on Sunday and is the fastest qualifier to the February 14, $139,700 final.

Ridden by Cesar DeAlba for trainer John Cooper, Moonist defeated reigning world champion Heza Dasha Fire by a half of a length in :19.506. The 5-year-old son of champion Separatist was winning for the 21st time in 31 starts and pushing his earnings to $805,494.

"Moonist exploded in the last part of the race," said Hartley, who acquired the gelding for $21,500 at the 2012 Los Alamitos Equine Sale. "It was a full moon tonight, and Moonist always does well when there's a full moon."

Hartley gave a lot of the credit for Moonist's success to the gelding's trainer.

"John's a hands-on trainer, there's no doubt about that," he added. "He has a ton of experience and a ton of knowledge, and that's what makes him one of the best trainers in the business."

"Moonist is something else; I wouldn't trade him for any other horse in the world," said Cooper. "Horses (usually) don't keep running like this for so long. Heza Dasha Fire is a dandy, and he's owned by some nice people and there's no doubt that he's as good as there is around here. Our horses is a dandy as well, so when they get together it makes for a great race."

Both Moonist and Heza Dasha Fire were making their first start since December 12, when Heza Dasha Fire defeated his rival by 1 1/4 lengths in the 440-yard, $600,000 Champion of Champions (G1).

"After the Winter Championship, (Heza Dasha Fire) will rest for 60-to-90 days," said Jose Flores, who trains Heza Dasha Fire for owner S Quarter-K LLC. "His heel is doing pretty good. We changed his shoeing around a bit. Another race awaits us in the (Winter Championship) final, so we'll start getting ready for it."

Third-fastest qualifier Dr Jess won the second heat by a head from odds-on favorite Jake Gold Br. A 4-year-old gelded son of champion Mr Jess Perry and 2007 Golden State Million Futurity (G1) winner Eye For Corona, Dr Jess was ridden by Jesus Ayala for owner EG High Desert Farms and trainer Yanet Rodriguez.

Dr Jess has won four of eight starts and has banked $24,755 while racing exclusively in California. The gelding was making his first start since December 4, when he ran second, a half of a length behind winner Sugardaddy B, in the 300-yard, $16,000 Lake Forest Handicap.

"I was sad when I had to geld him," said Enrique Gonzalez, owner of EG High Desert Farms. "He's such a well-bred horse, and I was hoping he would run as a 2-year-old like he's been running now, but that's how this game goes. I'm excited about how he's performing, and I loved the way he ran in these trials.

"It was an important race for him and a big race for us," he added. "The final will be a tough competition. We know that Moonist and Heza Dasha Fire are two bosses on the racetrack, but I feel good about my horse. He's improving, and he's much more lightly raced than the others. Maybe he'll be in the middle of the action in the final, so we hope he has a good showing."

Click here for a complete list of qualifiers.

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