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Matabari Wins Los Al 2 Million

Mr Jess Perry filly takes the richest race of the meet at Los Alamitos.

December 17, 2012

Balgo Racing Team and Marlyn Gonzalez’s Matabari won the richest American Quarter Horse race of the 2012 meeting at Los Alamitos after edging Bobby Cox’s The August Heat by a long nose in the $2,108,275 Los Alamitos Million Futurity (G1) on Sunday night.

Ridden by the meet’s leading jockey Cruz Mendez and saddled by Jose Flores, Matabari battled with The August Heat right from the start and both runners were on even terms practically the entire race. With Rodrigo Aceves in the irons for trainer Jaime Gomez, The August Heat had a nose advantage over Matabari after the first 180 and 300 yards before the gray filly caught the talented Texas shipper in the final couple of strides. Saddled by Jose Flores, Matabari covered the 400 yards in :19.680 while earning $850,196. Bred by Balgo’s Jose M. Gonzalez, the gray filly by Mr Jess Perry entered the Two Million with two wins from only four starts and earnings of less than $7,000. Those figures did not matter, as Matabari showed the same level of determination and courage in winning this race than when she recovered from a serious injury to her tongue just weeks before the Two Million trials.

“She suffered a really bad cut in her tongue,” trainer Jose Flores said. “I don’t really how it happened, but it was not pretty. Dr. Rick Overly did a great job taking care of it and she needed a lot of stitches. I never asked or counted how many stitches she got, but it was a lot. It was a bad tear and she could have lost her tongue. When it happened I felt terrible for her owners because I, as the trainer, have a responsibility to take care of her. To go to the owners and say that she can’t go in the trials because she bit her tongue, that’s really tough. She’s a fighter and a strong filly. The injury happened no more than two weeks before the trials and she just shook it off. She didn’t care. I knew that it didn’t feel right to her because she would eat a little bit and then she would walk away before coming back again to eat. It probably bothered her, but she didn’t care.”

Matabari’s nasty cut forced Flores to make some changes to the filly’s menu.

“We had to cook her grain,” he said. “We switched to orchard grass and took her off of hay because that was tougher for her to eat. We took her hay away for a while. We ended up ponying her a lot as her training. We had to find the right rubber bit so that it wouldn’t bother her too much. You have to have an attitude to come back after an injury like that and she does have an attitude. I told Cruz in the trials to just let her reins loose and to try not to bother her mouth by pulling on her. We are still cooking her food right now, but in the final I didn’t tell him a thing about how to ride her. We just went for it.”

Mendez has had a tremendous season on the saddle. He’s currently the meet’s leading Quarter Horse pilot with 165 victories, nearly double the amount of the second-place jockey Ramon Sanchez. Among Mendez’s big victories have been the Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship (G1) with Chivalry SR and the Los Alamitos Winter Derby (G1) with El Aguila Real. He also qualified four horses in the trials to the Two Million including fastest qualifier Freedom Choice and the undefeated Commando Tres Seis. Mendez also qualified Arnold Gonzalez’s Fires Blazin, who is the only horse to qualify to the track’s three futurities featuring a purse of $1 million or more. It was not easy to decide which horse to ride.

“I did not make up my mind until this Monday,” he said. “Jose had three horses in the race and I wanted to ride for the barn. I liked Commando Tres Seis and Matabari because they were both fresh and were getting better.”

Commando Tres Seis, however, bled during his trial win and was placed on the veterinarian’s list.

“I liked Fires Blazin too, but I ended up going with Matabari,” Mendez said. “I loved her trial win and she tried really hard in her trial to the Golden State Million Futurity (G1). She finished third, but her running lane closed on her and she lost her chance to qualify. I thought that she had come a long way and was gaining experience, plus I really liked that she closed so well in the trials.”

Mendez felt fortunate to just be able to ride in the Two Million. A week earlier, he was involved in a scary looking spill, but he came out of it practically unscathed.

“My horse hit another horse’s leg and we went down,” he said. “I lost consciousness for a little bit and when I regained my senses I thought I was broken. I came out just a little sore. For a couple of days after the spill I was sore and felt like I had slept wrong. I am blessed that I was not more seriously hurt.”

Mendez will now look forward to finishing 2012 healthy and with a riding title to his name.

“It has been a dream season for me,” he said. “When I first started I never imagined that I would ride first call for Jose Flores while also having the support of a lot of other great trainers.”

It has also been quite the eventful year for Flores, who was suspended earlier this year when a horse under his care tested positive for an illegal substance.

“One of my horses got contaminated, but it was not done deliberately,” he said. “The horse was still my responsibility so I was suspended. We’ve since installed nine video cameras in the barn and we’re working on adding more. My dad, Antonio, was so instrumental in helping me get through that tough time. He helped me so much and I couldn’t have done it without him and the great owners that employ me. The rest of my employees and, of course, Cruz and his agent Frank Quezada deserve so much credit for helping the barn enjoy this moment.”

Matabari’s mother, by the way, is the Separatist broodmare Hold Me Now, the winner of the 2007 California Breeders’ Champions Night Matron Stakes (RG2). Hold Me Now’s mother is the Thoroughbred mare Fornow, a daughter of In Excess.

Bobby Cox’s The August Heat, who finished third in the Dash For Cash Futurity (G1) before winning his trial in impressive fashion, earned $344,127 for finishing in second-place. Corona Cartel is the sire of The August Heat.

“Matabari was hard to beat,” Cox said. “The August Heat started going pretty quickly. At the wire, The August Heat was moving back and Matabari was coming forward. I guess we were just on the wrong leg at the wrong time. I thought he could be first, second or third and he did not disappoint. He’ll go back to New Mexico and we hope to run him in the big derbies at Ruidoso Downs in the summer. I do have a Corona Cartel filly here that we’re hoping will run in the Winter Derby trials.”

Jose and Gustavo De La Torre’s Freedom Choice, who won his Two Million trial by 2 ¼ lengths, was bumped at the start on his way to earning $242,913. G.R. Carter rode the colt by A Regal Choice for trainer Jose De La Torre.

Seperate Interest, the Golden State Million runner-up, earned $141,699 for running fourth. All American Futurity (G1) third-place finisher Aha Moment finished fifth to pick up a check for $121,457. Fires Blazin, Far Niente, Somethin Like This, Lavish Susan and Commando Tres Seis completed the field.