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Kobe Scores in Los Al Winter Derby

Colt comes through at 4-1 odds to upset even-money favorite Deniro.

February 19, 2012

Kobe won it in the last second, but not with a last-second jump shot or driving lay-up. This Kobe, a colt by Mr Eye Opener named after the superstar basketball player Kobe Bryant, won the $200,000 Los Alamitos Winter Derby (G1) by sticking his nose in front of the finish line first and in the last possible moment of a thrilling 400-yard duel with even-money favorite Deniro on Saturday at Los Alamitos.

Owned and bred by Mark and Mary Parsons, Kobe showed all the determination in the world, as the 3-year-old California-bred appeared to be out of contention right at the start when he was bumped hard by both Deniro and One Ramblin Lady leaving the gate. Sixth at the break, jockey Cody Jensen and Kobe began to chip away at the leaders with each stride once the colt regained his composure. With 110 yards left in the race, Kobe had managed to put himself back into the title fight before completing his tremendous comeback in yard number 399 of the race. Many in Kobe’s camp were still unsure as to whether he had pulled off the win. The photo finish, however, showed that Kobe hit the wire an inch ahead of the talented Deniro to give the Parsons their first graded stakes win.

“That’s class,” Jensen said after the race. “You can’t teach heart. He just has it. I have a lot of history with the Parsons and (winning trainer) Paul Jones. I used to ride Kobe’s mother, Rubiate, and she had that type of heart. That’s how she used to fight. We thought she was going to a special runner, but it didn’t work out that well. She still gave Kobe her heart. It’s still exciting to win a race like this.”

Jensen was winning his third Los Alamitos Winter Derby after piloting Lock To Load in 2003 and One More Habit in 2005.

“He got bumped around a bunch of times at the start and then he got bumped again after that,” Jones said. “Horses just don’t win races when that stuff happens to them. This horse ran a tremendous race.”

The graded stakes victory was everything that the Parsons dreamed it would be. Mark first became involved in racing at Los Alamitos in 2003 with the claimer Indigo Dash. Mark and his son Mark Jr. joined forces later that year and raced the claimer Invisible Queen. In 2004, they campaigned Show Me Your Moon and also Rubiate, a young mare that Paul Jones encouraged Mark to purchase from legendary trainer Blane Schvaneveldt. The Parsons raced her in several stakes races, including runner-up efforts in the 2004 La Pacifica Handicap and 2005 California Breeders’ Matron Stakes (RG3).

“If she could get out of the gate she could move down the straightaway,” Parsons said. “She was a great racehorse and a lot of fun, but we would have to tongue-tie her and hold her by the tail and just pray that when the gate open she come flying out because if she did she was going to win. It was exciting.”

The Parsons have also campaigned stakes runners Apollos Favorite and Willie Getto Know Me and later their outstanding filly Choosy, who ran fifth in the 2006 Governor’s Cup Futurity (RG1) and PCQHRA Breeders’ Futurity (G1).

“My son has a young family so he had to take a break from owning, but Mary and I continued with the horses. I remember when I told Mary that I was going to breed Rubiate to Mr Eye Opener, her eyes really became wide open. Once this little colt popped out my wife fell in love with him. Rubiate had had three other babies before Kobe, but we could tell that this one was special. She would never let Kobe out of her sight when he was a baby. This was her boy. As he got a little older, he used to run around with the other colts and they would beat up on each other. Just like Rubiate, he had no quit in him. I would brush him and spend time with him to see if I could get him to calm down. Finally, I called Double Bar S Ranch and asked if they could put him in his own little pasture, so they did. I would go out and brush him. He would give me this look and I finally I said ‘okay dude, show me what you got,’ and I would start running down the fence line and we would take off. He’d start buck kicking and he would leave me in the dust. We would do that every weekend.”

On the night of the Winter Derby, Kobe took off, but this time he wasn’t chasing Mark, but instead a powerful gray gelding named Deniro. There was no buck kick this time around, but Kobe still found a way to outduel his rival. For winning his fourth race in six career starts, Kobe earned $84,000 to put him over the $100,000 mark in earnings. The homebred has now made $111,502 in his career.

“This feels like the top of the mountain,” said Mary Parsons. “It’s special because we raced his mother. He ran so strong to the finish just like his mom. The El Primero Del Ano Derby trials are next (on March 18), but Paul will check him and make sure he is fine for the trials.”

“It’s unique and it’s special because of Rubiate,” Mark added. “The margin for error is so small in stakes races so you’re not supposed to win like that when you get bumped.”

“You know, Kobe got flowers for good luck from (Double Bar S Ranch’s) Jess You And I earlier tonight. Kobe will definitely have to return the favor tomorrow night,” Mary added.

Jess You And I is racing in Sunday’s Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship.

After all the TV interviews were finished. Mark and his son Mark Jr. stood by their table in the Vessels Club and in a moment of sheer joy just bear hugged each other for what could have been a minute. It was a moment that had been more than eight years in the making.

“You need a win like this once in a while to keep you going,” Mark Parsons said. “It’s not about the money. Yeah, money does help keep you in the game, but the money doesn’t equal the joy of winning with a horse that you bred. You can’t put a price tag on something like this.”

Ridden by Adrian Loza for trainer Ugo De La Torre, the Washington-bred Deniro earned $34,000 for his runner-up effort in the Winter Derby. The Desirio gelding is owned by Shane O’Leary and was bred by Gregory and M. Renee Hickman. Ed Allred’s Check My Thoughts earned $24,000 for running third to trainer Jimmy Glenn and jockey Eulices Gomez. The powerful closer came back from ninth place to run third. Flame N Flash, BF Farm Girl, One Ramblin Lady, Eye For FDD, Long Gone, Testing The Ice and Flyin Rose completed the field.