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Champion of Champions Berths Awarded

Hez Our Secret, Senor Toby and Jess You And I advance to Los Alamitos’ marquee event.

November 25, 2012

Johnny Trotter’s Hez Our Secret posted an impressive three-quarter-length victory in the Z. Wayne Griffin Director Trial to earn one of the three guaranteed berths to the $750,000 Champion of Champions (G1) available in this race on Saturday at Los Alamitos. Also advancing to the sport’s most prestigious race for older horses were Brad Lohr and Daniel Reynoso’s Senor Toby and Double Bar S Ranch’s ageless Jess You And I, who finished second and third, respectively, in this trial.

Ridden by Ricky Ramirez for trainer Trey Wood, Hez Our Secret broke a neck ahead of the pack and then accelerated from there and was never seriously challenged. The gray colt by First Down Dash has always enjoyed racing at Los Alamitos. He won his trial to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1) last year and finished fourth in the final and three weeks ago he finished second by a neck to Deniro in the $1 million Los Alamitos Super Derby (G1). Hez Our Secret, who covered the 400 yards in :19.608 in the trial, will now join a field that includes world champion Cold Cash 123, Deniro and two-time Grade 1 winner El Aguila Real in the Champion of Champions on Saturday, December 15.

“He left great tonight,” Wood said. “He’s a good horse, but he still didn’t have his ears pinned back when he was running. He had one ear up most of the way. He just has so much talent and I still think he can get better. I’m looking forward to seeing him at 440 yards. He was second in the All American Derby also at 440, but he didn’t leave the gate like he did tonight. He’s a good horse and I’m excited to see him run in the most prestigious race in the nation. To be in there is an honor.”

Trotter has been there a couple of times before. Along with partners Burnett Ranches Ltd., Trotter campaigned superstar stallion One Famous Eagle to a fourth-place finish to Jess You And I in the 2008 Champion of Champions. Trotter and Burnett Ranches also raced Super Derby winner Miss Racy Jess to a seventh in last year’s Champion of Champions. Trotter hopes that the third time is the charm in the Champion of Champions.

The third time was definitely sweet for Daniel Reynoso. The owner had twice before been left at the altar of the Champion of Champions, as his Fire Is On was the 11th qualifier to the race in 2010 and Senor Toby had the fate of the being the 11th qualifier to last year’s Champion of Champions. Reynoso and Lohr were all smiles this time around, as Senor Toby’s second-place finish in the Z. Wayne Griffin made him the ninth qualifier to the big race.

“It feels so good to make it this time,” said an emotional Reynoso. “We have been trying for the past couple of years and had come so close. This had to be it.”

Reynoso couldn’t stand to watch the race after Senor Toby did not break like he hoped in the trial.

“My pants almost dropped I was so nervous,” Reynoso said with a laugh. “I even turned away from the TV. It didn’t look good for Senor Toby at the start, but then I heard track announcer Ed Burgart say ‘Here comes Toby’ and I started finding my horse. When my horse crossed the wire second people started coming up to me to congratulate me. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been chasing this race and the third time was the charm.”

Trained by Jaime Gomez and ridden by Oscar Peinado, Senor Toby was a perfect six-for-six in 2011. He has one win in six starts this season, but he has never finished out of the top three and his record includes runner-up efforts to El Aguila Real in the Los Alamitos Winter Derby (G1) and Vessels Maturity (G1) and a third in the Go Man Go Handicap (G1). Now Senor Toby gets another shot at El Aguila Real and of course the aforementioned stars like Cold Cash 123 and Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship (G1) winner Chivalry SR.

“We have to face El Aguila Real and Cold Cash 123 and that’s fine with me,” Reynoso said. “If it was Pegasus that we had to face I would still be fine with it. We’re in the Champion of Champions and to me that’s a dream come true.”

The 8-year-old Jess You And I has been a dream horse his entire career for Double Bar S Ranch. As a 2-year-old, the son of Feature Mr Jess won his first five career starts and won the Golden State Million Futurity and a 2006 title as the champion 2-year-old gelding. A multiple derby finalist as a 3-year-old, Jess You And I came back as a 4-year-old to win the Champion of Champions in track record time at 440 yards. He has not missed a Champion of Champions running ever since, as he also qualified in 2009, ’10, ’11 and now ’12. Oh, and he’s also earned $1,824,739 in 39 career starts. He’ll make his 40th start in the Champion of Champions.

“We are going to the prom again,” said Dawn List of Double Bar S Ranch.

“He’s a freak and an unbelievable horse,” added Rhonda List. “We were watching the head bobs between him and (Thisfeatureisspecial) and I think he won it by the tip of his tongue. He’s something else.”

“The cup runneth over with Jess You And I,” Dawn continued. “This horse is something else. He’s made it five times and I think the first and now this last one are the most special.”

The legendary Refrigerator is the only horse to have run in the Champion of Champions five times, winning the race three times while competing in it from 1991 through 1996.

If another spot opens up, Mauro Eli Zaborowsky’s Thisfeatureisspecial is next in line to earn a berth to the Champion of Champions. Sparky E Boy, who ran second in last year’s Champion of Champions, Hot Hitter, Creston Goer and Shining First Dash completed the field.