Ochoa Looks for Record in Champion of Champions

All-time earnings leader looks for $3M mark on Saturday.

Q-Racing Journal
December 12, 2013

All-time leading money earner Ochoa looks to take a major step toward possibly taking the 2013 world champion title and become American Quarter Horse racing’s first $3 million earner when he starts in the $750,000 Champion of Champions (G1) on Saturday night at Los Alamitos.

Ochoa (Tres Seis-Stolis Fortune by Stoli) has been a champion in each of his previous two years of competition. The gelding was the 2011 champion 2-year-old and 2-year-old gelding and returned in 2012 to be honored as the champion 3-year-old and 3-year-old gelding. The major stakes he won that led to those titles also provided the major portion of the money that has made him the all-time leading money earning American Quarter Horse at $2,762,615. Of that record total, he earned $2,740,415 at the Champion of Champions distance of 440 yards.

The stakes he has won at 440 yards are the 2010 $2.4 million All American Futurity (G1), 2011 $2.2 million All American Derby (G1), 2011 $903,000 Rainbow Derby (G1) and the recent $150,000 Robert L. Boniface Los Alamitos Championship (G1).

Owned by the partnership of breeder Johnny T.L. Jones Jr.’s J Bar 7 Ranch, Monty and Katsy Cluck, and Doug Benson, Ochoa is currently the nation’s top-ranked older horse in the AQHA Racing-Horseplayernow.com National Poll with two stakes wins and a close second from three starts this year. He made his seasonal debut in the $250,000 Remington Park Championship (G1) and made a late charge as the 7-5 favorite, but came up a neck short of Priceless Feature (Feature Mr Jess-Southern Price by Corona Cartel), who earned his Champion of Champions start with the win.

Ochoa spent the summer in the Dwayne “Sleepy” Gilbreath barn at Ruidoso Downs and carried 129 pounds to a dominating three-quarter-length victory in the $30,000 Mr Jet Moore Handicap (G3) after a rough start.

The powerful gelding was then shipped to Los Alamitos with the Champion of Champions the ultimate goal. Under the daily care of Gilbreath’s assistant and two-time Champion of Champions-winning jockey James Lackey, Ochoa raced for a Champion of Champions invitation in the $150,000 Los Alamitos Championship. He impressed with a stunning three-quarter-length win as the 11-10 favorite. That win not only gave him a starting spot in the Champion of Champions, but made him the probable favorite in the Champion of Champions.

If Ochoa wins the Champion of Champions, he joins world champion Easy Date and two-time world champion Refrigerator as the only horses to win the All American Futurity and the Champion of Champions. The winner’s share of the Champion of Champions would push his career earnings past the unprecedented $3 million mark.

Jesus Avila and Jesus Cueva’s Last To Fire (Walk Thru Fire-Last Shall Be First by Strawfly Special) is the sport’s second-ranked older horse after winning the $168,000 Vessels Maturity (G1) and the $100,000 Go Man Go Invitational (G1) in his two latest starts. The Jose De La Torre-trained gelding took the Vessels Maturity by one-half length and dominated the Go Man Go by 1 3/4 lengths over a very deep field.

Trainer Paul Jones, winner of six Champion of Champions since 2002 and the latest two runnings, has three entrants in the Champion of Champions: defending winner Rylees Boy and the distaffers Check N Fetch and Significant Heart.

Lorena Velazquez Rodriguez’s Rylees Boy (Heza Motor Scooter-Pipistrelle by Rocky Jones) won last year’s Champion of Champions by a nose and then banked his berth in this year’s running by overcoming trouble to win the $171,000 Los Alamitos Winter Championship (G1) by one-half length. Since that February win, he finished second in the Go Man Go and fourth in both the $71,000 Bank of America Los Alamitos Championship Challenge (G3) and the Los Alamitos Championship. He holds the eighth spot in the national poll for older horses.

Rodriguez will also be represented by the sharp Check N Fetch (Check Him Out-Shyann La Jolla by Streakin La Jolla), the seventh-ranked older horse. She earned her Champion of Champions invitation with a nose win in the $150,000 Mildred Vessels Handicap (G1) and returned to secure a head win in the $100,000 Merial Distaff Challenge Championship (G1), her latest start.

Abigail Kawananakoa’s Significant Heart (Corona Cartel-Jess Significant by Mr Jess Perry) won the $15,000 Z. Wayne Griffin Directors’ Trial to get into the Champion of Champions. The winner of five of eight starts at Los Alamitos won the $178,000 PCQHRA Breeders’ Derby (G3) two starts ago.

Also coming out of the Directors’ Trial was Johnny Trotter’s Hez Our Secret (First Down Dash-Secret Separation by Separatist), who was second as the 8-5 favorite behind Significant Heart. He gained the berth after $150,000 Zia Park Championship (G1) winner DM Streakn Thru Fire’s connections declined the invitation for their horse because of a shortened time (18 days) between the Zia Park Championship and the Champion of Champions when the Zia Park Championship was postponed due to poor weather in Hobbs, New Mexico.

Hez Our Secret, the 2012 champion 3-year-old colt, was second behind Ochoa in the Los Alamitos Championship and third to Rylees Boy in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship for trainer Trey Wood.

Trainer Eddie Willis has Reliance Ranches’ Feature Hero (Valiant Hero-Illegal Feature by Feature Mr Jess) and Ed Melzer’s Priceless Feature in the Champion of Champions.

Feature Hero surprised at 23-1 odds in the $2.8 million All American Derby (G1), which offered the largest purse in Quarter Horse racing history. He then prepped for the Champion of Champions with a close third in the Town Policy Handicap at Los Alamitos on November 1.

After defeating Ochoa in the Remington Park Championship back in June, Priceless Feature returned in the Los Alamitos Championship and finished a well-beaten sixth at 7-2 odds.

Balgo Racing Team and Marilyn Gonzalez’s Matabari (Mr Jess Perry-Hold Me Now by Separatist) does her best work in the year’s final two months at Los Alamitos. A year ago, she capped her juvenile season by getting up in the final strides to win the $2,024,275 million Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1) and now she is in her best 2013 form. The Guillermo Morales-trained filly held off Scatmandu to win the $953,000 Los Alamitos Super Derby (G1) and become just the third horse to take the Two Million and the Super Derby. The Two Million and the Super Derby are her only stakes appearances coming into the Champion of Champions.

Gerardo Prado’s Vodka With Ice (Stoli-Hips So Fine by Extra Easy) comes off a career-defining 17-1 upset win in the $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1). The Pablo Rabasa Jr.-trained 8-year-old gelding held off a furious charge by world champion Cold Cash 123 to get the neck win, his 12th victory from 48 starts.