A Toss Up Earns Champion of Champions Berth

Oklahoma-bred wins the Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship.

News Release

It’s a sure thing that James Sills and Abelardo Flores’ A Toss Up will rise in the AQHA Racing-Horseplayernow.com National Poll next week following his impressive win against a field that included 2013 world champion Last To Fire and current top ranked sprinter Bon Accord in the Grade 1, $150,000 Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship on Saturday night.

Ridden by Carlos Huerta for trainer Eddie Willis, A Toss Up was always in command of the Los Alamitos Invitational after breaking sharply from post number seven. The gelding by Sweet First Down kept to his task from there, as he crossed the finish line three-quarter lengths ahead of Last To Fire to post the fifth stakes win of his 24-race career. A Toss Up, winner of the Remington Park Oklahoma Bred Derby (R), Eastex Handicap (G2) and Sooner State Stakes (RG1) in 2012 and the Black Gold Futurity (R) in 2011, earned $75,000 for his victory on Saturday while booking a berth to the prestigious $600,000 Champion of Champions (G1).

In the Champion of Champions, A Toss Up will face Bon Accord once again, as well as Los Alamitos Invitational sixth-place finisher Nellie Delaney. Stimulus, who booked his berth to the Champion of Champions about 15 minutes earlier on Saturday after winning the Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1) at Prairie Meadows, DM Streakin Thru Fire, Significant Heart, Far Niente, and Too Flash For You have also qualified to the Champion of Champions.

“They’re in trouble,” said Willis with a smile referring to A Toss Up’s rivals in the Champion of Champions. “If he runs in the Champion of Champions like he did tonight, he’ll be very tough on December 13. With a talented horse like this one, I just have leave him alone. We’ve never operated on him, I’ve never even had to X-ray him. We did give him some time off after the All American Gold Cup last year because he had bad feet. We let his feet heal and now here he is.”

A Toss Up is one of the Willis’ favorite. After all, A Toss Up grew up at Willis’ farm in Caney, Oklahoma.

“This horse has never been off my place other than the racetrack,” Willis said.

“I needed a Los Al race to get him in the Invitational so we went in an allowance race (on September 26). He won the race and that help earn him a berth to this race. He’s been a good horse. He qualified to the All American Derby in 2012, but he had abscess in his chest and we had to scratch him. He had dead-heated for first with (champion) Hez Our Secret in the All American Derby trials. It was tough that we couldn’t run him back in the All American Derby final.”

A Toss Up’s sire, Sweet First Down, and his mother, Shake Cartel, were campaigned by Flores and Sills. They also own Shake Cartel’s mother, Shake N Quack.

“I called them one day and told them that I had just bought them a mare,” Willis said. “That was Shake N Quack, while Sweet First Down was the first horse that we bought for $100,000. Sweet First Down is a full brother to Dashin Bye, who was a really good racehorse and a very nice stallion.”

Flores and his wife, Olivia, traveled from their home in Texas to root on A Toss Up at Los Alamitos.

“I’m glad that we came,” said Abelardo Flores, a contractor in San Antonio. “This is a dream for me. Eddie has been training for me for 20 years. He also trained for James Sills of Cedar Hills, Texas. We met through Eddie Willis. My dad owned horses back in Mexico so this is in my blood.”

A horse’s heart is often credited following an important victory.

In the Los Alamitos Invitational Championship, it was Abelardo Flores’ heart that became a topic of conversation.

“I’ve had three heart attacks already,” said the 57-year-old horse owner. “I’ve had open heart surgery. I have four stents right now. I have so many that I have some for sale. My dad passed away from a heart attack when he was 49. I have four brothers and we’ve all had open heart surgery. It just runs in the family. I don’t think about it. I believe that if you worry about being sick that you just make it worse. When God is ready, he’ll take me. That’s what I believe.”

Abelardo’s wife believes that owning horses is the best thing for Abelardo’s health.

“The horses take his stress away,” Olivia said. “He’s happy when he’s with his horses.”

“I work hard every day and even though I’ve had three heart attacks, I’m still going strong like nothing has happened,” he said.

Next for the couple is to start planning for a return trip to Los Alamitos for the Champion of Champions.

“This was the first time I had been to Los Alamitos since I came to see (champion) Kool Kue Baby,” Flores added. “She was owned by a good friend of mine and we came to watch her run at Los Alamitos.”

Last To Fire, the winner of the 2013 Champion of Champions, earned $25,500 for finishing second. Owned by Jesus Avila and Jesus Cuevas, the son of Walk Thru Fire has now earned $1,136,744. He’s hit the board in 17 of 23 career starts. Last To Fire had previously finished second to Bon Accord in the Go Man Go Handicap (G1). Last To Fire’s final opportunity to qualify to the Champion of Champions will be the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on Sunday, November 16. Ramon Sanchez rode Last To Fire for Paul Jones.

Owned by J. Garvan Kelly, Nancy Yearsley and Vinewood Farms, Bon Accord earned $15,000 for running third. The Shazoom gelding broke slow, but finished strong to earn third place. Juan Aleman saddled the winner of the Remington Park Invitational Championship (G1). Cesar De Alba was aboard. Once Over, Dynasty Red, Nellie Delaney, Seperate Interest, Jess Being Valiant, Forrest Fire and One Valiant Hero completed the field.

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