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Challenge Championships: Jonesin' For A Win

Trainer Paul Jones sends out a strong contingent in the Challenge Championships.

By Andrea Caudill
Q-Racing Journal
November 8, 2013

jess featureme quick

Jess Featureme Quick. PHOTO: Andrea Caudill

In the past three Challenge events held at Los Alamitos, 11 of the 18 race winners were horses who prepped most recently at Los Alamitos. If that trend continues, it would behoove bettors to take a hard look at the flock of Paul Jones trainees who promise to be dangerous, from the Bank of America Challenge Championship to the Red Cell Distance Challenge Championship.

In the $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1), Jones sends out Jess Featureme Quick and Sparky E Boy.

Jess Featureme Quick is a homebred racing for Melissa Ann Miller of Belton, Texas. The Feature Mr Jess gelding has won or placed in 14 of 19 career starts with $512,538 in earnings. This summer, he won the Bank of America Los Alamitos Championship Challenge (G3) and was second behind the sharp two-time Grade 1 winner Last To Fire in the Vessels Maturity (G1).

“He drew the 1 hole, which is not a favorable post for him, but we like how he’s training and coming into this race,” Jones says. “This horse really has a strong closing kick. The racetrack’s doing good on the inside this past week, and I think he has a really good chance in this race.”

Stablemate Sparky E Boy is looking to shrug off his Grade 1-bridesmaid status and finally pick up a victory. The 6-year-old gelding, who is raced by Reed Pierson and Brad Stevenson, is a six-time stakes winner with earnings of $338,174, and has three times been second in a Grade 1.

“He is really a hard-knocking horse, and I really love the post position draw for him,” Jones says. “He has a late-running style as well. This horse is just doing excellent and looks great right now. He’s an old campaigner, and he has been in a lot of big races. He’s just a really classy old horse. He really hasn’t won the big one, but he’s been runner-up in a lot of big ones. He’s kind of flown under the radar, and this might be his night.”

The $100,000 Merial Distaff Challenge Championship (G1) is a deep race, with many top contenders.

Leading the way is Check N Fetch, who this year has won five of nine starts, including the Mildred N. Vessels Memorial Handicap (G1), and is looking to sew up a champion aged mare title with a victory in this race. Racing for Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez, Check N Fetch has career earnings of $188,492.

“This mare has just been phenomenal all year,” Jones says. “When she gets out of the gate like a rocket, she’s really hard to beat.”

The gray mare, a daughter of Check Him Out and out of the Streakin La Jolla mare Shyann La Jolla, is just as ferocious off the track as she is on the track.

“I call her ‘crabby pants’,” the trainer says with a laugh. “She’s really mean, she’s not very friendly. She wants to bite your head off, but she runs well.”

One of the mares she will have to outrun is Mauro Eli Zaborowsky’s Thisfeatureisspecial. The Brazilian-owned mare is a tough and consistent competitor. She has made only three starts this year, but was second in the Charger Bar Handicap (G2), and fourth in the Millie Vessels, but defeated both Check N Fetch and Shez Jess Toxic in the Merial Los Alamitos Distaff Challenge (G3).

The 6-year-old mare is by Feature Mr Jess and out of the Special Effort mare This Girl Is Special.

“This mare really has a strong run on the end,” Jones says. “She had a minor pulled muscle that we were dealing with, so we were a little concerned with that. But we think it’s better and she’s training well now.”

The distaff is, remarkably, a family affair, as Thisfeatureisspecial’s full sister, Im A Feature Girl, will also contest the race under the Paul Jones colors. The 4-year-old mare is owned by Jorge Haddad, and qualified to the race through a second-place finish in the Merial Prairie Meadows Distaff Challenge. She also ran in the race last year, finishing fifth behind Fredaville, and has earned $42,143 in her career.

Jones’ representative in the $200,000 Adequan Derby Challenge Championship (G2) is Beatrice Alaniz and Juan Escalante’s DM Red Tide. The gelding is well-traveled, as in his eight starts this year he has run at Hialeah, Remington Park and Retama Park. Along the way, he was claimed for $5,000 in May, and in August notched his first stakes win the Adequan Retama Derby Challenge.

DM Red Tide is by Wave Carver and out of the Sixarun mare Sashay N Six. He has earned $52,652 in his career.

“This is going to be his first race for me here,” Jones says. “He showed a lot of talent when we worked him, he worked 350 from the gates in :17.9 lugging in, with the jockey having just a stranglehold on him. He shows he’s got talent and he’s working good.”

In the $150,000 John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2), Jones’ homebred gelding Make A Wish For Me goes out. He bred and owns the horse in partnership with Chad Richard. The gray gelding is by Brookstone Bay and out of the Separatist mare Asyouwish. From four starts, Make A Wish For Me has a record of three wins, with one second-place finish. His most recent race was the $44,460 John Deere Los Alamitos Juvenile Challenge over Time For Jesse Lee.

The gelding represents a touching story. In 2011, Jones was asked to help with a very special request. A 17-year-old boy named Emanuel Curiel had terminal cancer, and was granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“By watching TVG, he became a fan of mine,” Jones explains. “The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted him a wish to go anywhere – and his choice was to come out here and meet me and the horses. Can you believe that? It was touching, he could’ve met anyone in the world.”

Emanuel and his family traveled across the country to visit Los Alamitos and the Jones barn, and they were treated like royalty. Emanuel, who dreamed of being a jockey, got to tour Jones’ barn and watch horses work on the track. He was given a jacket, silks, and other things to take home, and met several world-class jockeys.

Sadly, Emanuel died only a few weeks after the visit.

“We named Make A Wish For Me in his memory,” Jones says.

In the $100,000 Red Cell Distance Challenge Championship (G1), Jones sends out Grammy Award-winning artist Lyle Lovett’s Stray Cat. The 4-year-old stallion began running hook races this year, and won a knock-down fight in the Red Cell Remington Distance Challenge (G3) over a field that included Emperor Valerian and multiple distance champion De Passem Okey.

Then, in a rather unusual move for a distance horse, Stray Cat came back at Los Alamitos to win a 440-yard allowance race.

“That was actually a pretty tough race,” notes the 11-time champion trainer. “He beat some really good horses going 440 and that really impressed me.”

It also impressed jockey Ramon Sanchez, who rarely rides 870 races, but wanted to ride this horse and will guide him Saturday night.

Unfortunately, Stray Cat drew the outside post, so Jones is hoping that 440-yard sharpness will help the horse in this race.

“I think he’s going to have the speed to get to the front,” he says. “I think he’ll be in the lead out of the gates if he gets out well….All About Larry’s in the 1 hole, so I’m gonna have to run a little harder to beat him.”

Stray Cat not only has a famous owner, but he also has a famous history. Bred by Lovett in partnership with Vessels Stallion Farm LLC, he is the only American Quarter Horse sired by famous Thoroughbred Storm Cat (TB). His dam is the champion First Down Dash mare Your First Moon.

The 21st Bank of America Challenge Championships are November 9 at Los Alamitos Race Course at Los Alamitos, California. Watch the festivities live on Q-Racing Video at www.qracingvideo.com and stay tuned to complete coverage from the Q-Racing Journal at www.aqharacing.com.