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El Aguila Real Upsets Winter Championship

Longshot earns first spot in this year’s Champion of Champions.

February 20, 2012

The Eagle has landed in the Champion of Champions. Owned by Bianca Mendez, El Aguila Real, whose name in Spanish means The Royal Eagle, upset one of the best ever Los Alamitos Winter Championship (G1) fields on Sunday night to earn himself the first of 10 guaranteed starting berths to the prestigious 2012 Champion of Champions (G1).

Trained by Francisco Vallejo and ridden by Bianca’s brother-in-law, Cruz Mendez, El Aguila Real led the Winter Championship from start to finish and easily swooped down into the winner’s circle while recording his second Grade 1 victory in just over two months. Sired by Corona Czech and bred by 2003 AQHA Champion Owner Enrique Gonzalez of EG High Desert Farm, El Aguila Real had previously won the Grade 1 Southern California Derby on December 18. That victory was only a head decision over Feature My Corona, while this victory was a three-quarter length victory over rising star Senor Toby plus the two great champions Noconi and Jess You And I. Sent off at 10-1 odds, El Aguila Real covered the 400-yard distance in :19.502 and his winnings of $94,961 from the purse of $226,050 increased his career bankroll to $203,236. The Champion of Champions will be held on Saturday, December 15, at Los Alamitos.

“(El Aguila Real) broke better than ever before,” Cruz Mendez explained. “It felt like he was running all by himself so I started looking around for other horses. At about the 200-yard mark I knew that we had the lead all by ourselves. He was just kicking up dirt. It was a beautiful feeling and I just started getting happier and happier. My brother Santiago Mendez used to ride this horse, but when he hurt his hip I got the mount. The first time I rode him he gave me a few tips about the horse and we won that race. We’ve done well together since then and I’ve also gotten to know the horse well.”

Santiago Mendez has been a top rider at Los Alamitos for the past three years before dislocating his hip in a riding accident in September 2011. When El Aguila Real won the Southern California Derby, Mendez was still using crutches to move around, but this time around, Mendez sprinted to the winner’s circle after watching his wife’s high flyer cruising past the wire.

“He’s off his old crutches,” said Bianca smiling. “He still has to go to one more therapy session, but we are hoping that in three weeks he can start galloping. We are excited that he’s getting closer to riding again.”

Bianca purchased El Aguila Real for $7,500 as a yearling in 2009 and has since watched him develop into one of the top sprinters in the nation. Offers to purchase the multiple Grade 1 winner have also started to roll in.

“There have been some discussions,” she said, her eyes watering. “It’s hard to let go of the first one.

“When he won his maiden race, he got pinballed around and was bumped, but he still came through and won,” added the 21-year-old owner. “We knew then that he had some turbo in him. When he was running by himself tonight, I just started asking him to turn on his turbo and he did. It’s very special because I’m young. Pretty soon I am hoping to get my license as a trainer. I’ve been learning for the past couple of years from a lot of different trainers. I have four horses in addition to El Aguila Real right now. Two are claimers and two are allowance level horses. One of them we paid into the Governor’s Cup Derby and Southern California Derby. Maybe we can win that race again.”

While Bianca and Santiago’s future look bright in Quarter Horse racing, the spoils for the Winter Championship victory also belonged to veteran trainer Francisco Vallejo, who was enjoying his most important victory since he began to train Quarter Horses in the United States in 1992.

“This is the biggest one I’ve ever won,” he said. “The horse has been in my barn for 45 days and it was great to see how nicely he adjusted. He’s been eating great and he’s truly an easy-going horse. We took him to the racetrack on Thursday and he stood in the starting gate. He was so calm and relaxed. We walked him to the receiving barn on Friday and he felt great the entire time. When he’s on the hot walker or when we’re ponying, he’s always an easy horse to be around. He has a lot of natural ability.”

Brad Lohr and Daniel Reynoso’s Senor Toby earned $38,429 for finishing second in his Grade 1 debut. Senor Toby also had his seven-race win streak snapped. Trained by Jaime Gomez and ridden by Oscar Peinado, he’s now expected to take some time off.

R.D. Hubbard’s Noconi earned $27,126 for finishing third. He’s now earned $1,305,959. Double Bar S Ranch’s Jess You And I crossed the wire fourth, but was disqualified and placed seventh for bumping with Dash Back Perry. The 8-year-old Jess You And I made $9,042 for this trip down the straightaway and has now earned $1,819,669 in his brilliant career.

The complete order of finish to the Los Alamitos Winter Championship is as follows: El Aguila Real, Senor Toby, Noconi, Walkin Bac, Feature Honor, Dash Back Perry, Jess You And I , Sparky E Boy, BF Farm Boy and Parsons Rock.