Last To Fire First in Winter Championship Trials

Outstanding field set to return to the track for the February 17 final at Los Alamitos.

January 28, 2013

Multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed runners Last To Fire and Hez Our Secret grabbed the spotlight in their respective trials to the $171,300 Los Alamitos Winter Championship (G1) thanks to impressive victories on Sunday night. Owned by Jesus Avila and Jesus Cuevas and now trained by Jose De La Torre, Last To Fire posted a three-quarter length victory over newcomer Bills Last en route to posting the fastest qualifying time of :19.676 at 400 yards over a good track, while reigning champion 3-year-old colt Hez Our Secret scored a half-length win over the ageless Jess You And I with the third-fastest time of :19.810 over a good track.

Led by the two winning 4-year-old sprinters, a decorated field of 10 runners will return for the Grade 1 Winter Championship final on Sunday, February 17. In addition to Last To Fire, All American Derby (G1) finalist Bills Last, Hez Our Secret and the millionaire Jess You And I, the running of the Winter Championship will also feature 2011 world champion Cold Cash 123, three-time champion Rylees Boy, Grade 1 winners El Aguila Real and Check My Thoughts, plus talented runners New Look and Bovet.

Ridden by Francisco Rubio, Last To Fire is no stranger to Grade 1 races. The gelded son of Walk Thru Fire had a super year in 2011, as he ran third in the Golden State Million Futurity (G1) and second in the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1). As a 3-year-old last season, Last To Fire qualified to three Grade 1 derbies headed by a third-place finish in the Southern California Derby. Bred by the Estate of Spencer Childers, Last To Fire will be making another Grade 1 appearance thanks to his business-like effort in his Winter Championship trial. Breaking neatly from post number six, Last To Fire was in command the entire race against a field that in addition to Paul Blanchard’s Bills Last also featured 2012 Champion of Champions (G1) winner Rylees Boy, El Primero Del Ano Derby (G2) winner New Look and last year’s Winter Championship winner El Aguila Real.

Owned by Johnny Trotter, Hez Our Secret has a ton of Grade 1 experience as well. Last year, he was second in the both the All American Derby and Los Alamitos Super Derby and also ran in the Champion of Champions. During his freshman season, Hez Our Secret qualified to both the Rainbow Futurity (G1) and Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. When Hez Our Secret was named champion 3-year-old colt by the AQHA, owner Trotter said that his prized runner had “bigger and better things ahead” on the racetrack. His effort in the Winter Championship trials is proof of his potential as an aged stallion in 2013.

“He got in a little during his trial, but he was ahead of his rivals,” said Paul Leal, the assistant of trainer Trey Woods. “He ran second in the All American Derby and then he had four tough races in between the Los Alamitos Super Derby trials and the Champion of Champions (on December 15). I think that by the end of the season he was pretty tired. The great thing is that he was always eating well, but I thought he looked better tonight than in the Champion of Champions. I think the little time off after the Champion of Champions really helped him.

“He is one of the soundest horses that I’ve ever been around so that’s one great thing about this champion. We now have three weeks until the Winter Championship and if everything goes well I think he’ll probably travel to Remington Park to run in the Leo Stakes and the Remington Park Championship. He’ll probably enjoy some rest after that and hopefully he’ll be back at Los Alamitos later in the year,” Leal added.

Ricky Ramirez piloted the son of First Down Dash from the outside post 10.

There are some outstanding veteran champion millionaires headed to the Winter Championship. Double Bar S Ranch’s Jess You And I showed that there’s still a lot of great racing left in his 9-year-old body, as he closed nicely to go from sixth to second in his trial. Ridden by Ramon Sanchez, Jess You And I will now be running in the Winter Championship for a record fifth time. He won the Winter Championship in 2009, which is the year that qualifiers Last To Fire, Bills Last, New Look, Hez Our Secret, Bovet and Check My Thoughts were born. Jess You And I has earned $1,844,639 in 41 career starts. This year’s Winter Championship will be his 26th start in a stakes race.

Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez’s Rylees Boy rallied in his trial against Last To Fire, moving up from seventh-place to run third. Since winning the Champion of Champions, the 8-year-old gelding has been named the AQHA champion aged horse and champion aged gelding. His earnings now stand at $1,321,816.
“Horses like Jess You And I and Rylees Boy shows you that a good horse is a good horse no matter how old they are,” said trainer Paul Jones of his two runners. “Jess You And I did not get a great break and I think if he would have traded post positions with (Hez Our Secret) he would have won. Rylees Boy got shut out early on, but he came on strong at the end.”

T. Bill Stables Inc’s Cold Cash 123 posted a solid effort against Hez Our Secret as he flew in the final 200 yards to go from ninth to third-place. The son of Oak Tree Special has finished in the money in three of his four starts at Los Alamitos, highlighted by his victory in the Go Man Go Handicap on September 23. His earnings in this race pushed his lifetime bankroll to $1,271,031.

Jones also saddled second-fastest qualifier Bills Last. Bred by Jerry Windham, the Shazoom gelding qualified to the Ruidoso Derby, Rainbow Derby and All American Derby last year. He ran fifth to champions Ochoa and Hez Our Secret in the All American Derby. The complete order of Winter Championship qualifiers is as follows: Last To Fire (:19.676), Bills Last (:19.808), Hez Our Secret (:19.810), Rylees Boy (:19.888), Jess You And I (:19.922), Cold Cash 123 (:19.984), New Look (:19.986), Check My Thoughts (:19.996), El Aguila Real (:20.013) and Bovet (:20.026).