At the Track 

Finals Week

Remember all of those quarter horses who ran in 10 trial races over the Icelandic Independence Day/Fathers' Day weekend? Well 30 of them get to come back this Friday and Saturday at Les Bois Park. First post both days is at 6 p.m. If the trial races were the mid-terms, these American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Northwest Challenge races are the finals, and with more than $100,000 on the line, their personal tutors (their owners and trainers, that is) want them to excel at these tests.

Les Bois Park is one of only 15 race tracks in the United States to host AQHA Challenge races. Les Bois Park hosts the AQHA Northwest Bayer Legend Derby Challenge for 3-year-olds going 400 yards on Friday, and on Saturday, the AQHA Northwest Ford Juvenile Challenge for 2-year-olds going 350 yards and the AQHA Northwest MBNA Championship Challenge for older horses going 440 yards. A fourth Challenge race—the AQHA Northwest Red Cell Distance Challenge—is scheduled for July 14 at Les Bois Park.

Even though these are the finals locally, they're also trials for even bigger races down the road ... literally down the road. Only the winners of the three races get to travel to Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, Texas, for the 2006 MBNA America Challenge Championships on November 11. Three of this weekend's competitors—LDS Dash for Dylan, Canosa and Gigarad—raced in the championships at Los Alamitos last November 5, and each had a major impact. Two were winners and the other finished in third place.

Canosa won last year's Juvenile Challenge Championship at Los Al, paying a whopping $35 for the $2 win ticket, after winning at Wyoming Downs to qualify. He beat Gigarad in both of those races, but what a difference a year makes. Canosa barely qualified for Friday's Derby Challenge final, snagging the last spot in the gate with a time that's a length behind Gigarad and even farther behind the top qualifier.

In defense of his trial run, Canosa's qualifying race was his first time on the track since the big win at Los Al, so we should expect some improvement his next time out. I'm also expecting some long odds, and that combo is enough to put him in my quinella box.

Top jockey Travis Hamilton qualified two for Friday's final—BK Saxton, the top qualifier, and Gigarad—and he can't ride them both. If Hamilton rides Gigarad, I'll leave BK Saxton out of my quinella because he appears to need Hamilton: in his past 11 starts, the only time BK Saxton had a different rider, he finished in last place. Two others who deserve spots in my quinella are Ms Klee, the second-fastest qualifier, and Im Alright Now, who should be long odds and who is jockey Berkley Packer's only qualifier.

In Saturday's Championship Challenge, all you need to know is LDS Dash for Dylan. This Idaho-bred won last year's Derby Challenge Championship at Los Al as the even-money favorite. 'Dylan is an impressive-looking gray when standing still and is even more impressive in motion. While he wasn't the top qualifier—Weber, under jockey Ron Keckler, took that honor—he's still the "horse to beat." I round out my quinella box with Weber, Blue Grass Cowboy and Sangiovese. If it's a superfecta race, those are my guys for the super.

In the Juvenile Challenge, also on Saturday, two of the competitors also qualified for the Bitterroot Futurity back on May 29—Magnolia Lane finished fourth that day, with Special Czech sixth. Another—BK Kato Lane—won the Bitterroot consolation race. But Sold on Special, who missed both of those Bitterroot races after getting crunched between horses leaving the gate as the odds-on favorite in his Bitterroot trial race, should be the favorite after posting the top qualifying time of the challenge trials.

I'm taking the top qualifier with the three Bitterroot horses in my quinella, and I'm also throwing a long shot into my bet: Megachic probably doesn't have much of a chance to win, but you can't totally count her out—she's Gigarad's little sister!

Racing continues next week with a special Fourth of July Eve card at 6 p.m. on Monday and afternoon racing on the Fourth of July at 2 p.m. Monday's feature is the Wade Snapp Memorial for thoroughbreds going seven furlongs. Fall for Me, Telluride Place and Shotmo should compete for the win, but watch out for long shot Skirl, who could sneak up and bite your trifecta.

Tuesday's big race is the Stars & Stripes Handicap for Thoroughbreds going 7-1⁄2 furlongs. Entries for the S&S aren't finalized for a few more days, but the race usually draws the fastest thoroughbreds on the Les Bois Park grounds.

Robert Cooke, Jr., is an associate member of the National Turf Writers Association (NTWA).

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