06/22/2005 12:00AM

Be a Bono faces six from Jones barn in Vessels Maturity


Defending world champion Be a Bono will try to make amends for a troubled fourth-place finish in his Vessels Maturity trial when he starts in the Grade 1 finals Friday at Los Alamitos. He will find himself up against six horses from the Paul Jones stable.

The winner of $134,800 Vessels Maturity at 400 yards will earn a berth in the Grade 1, $500,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 10 at Los Alamitos.

Be a Bono was the 3-5 favorite in his Vessels Maturity trial and surprised his backers when he broke through the gate before the start and was reloaded. A 4-year-old gelding, Be a Bono then finished fourth in the second of two trials on June 10 and qualified with the eighth-fastest time of 19.770 seconds for 400 yards.

"He was overly anxious," jockey G.R. Carter said. "Fortunately he was still good enough to qualify. I'd rather see this happen in the trials than in the final, when the big money is on the line."

Be a Bono earned the 2004 world championship with Grade 1 victories in the Los Alamitos Winter Derby, Spencer Childers California Breeders Championship, and Los Alamitos Super Derby. He was also second by a nose in the Champion of Champions on Dec. 11, his last start before the Vessels Maturity trials.

Sky Lane Pie, winner of Be a Bono's trial in 19.630 seconds, was making his first start in seven months. Last year, he won the MBNA America California Challenge Championship and the Kaweah Bar Handicap.

Heading the Paul Jones-trained onslaught is the race's fastest qualifier, Planet Holland, winner of the first trial in 19.560 seconds. He won the 2003 Rainbow Futurity, was second in the 2004 Ruidoso Derby, and finished third in the 2004 Rainbow Derby.

Also representing Jones will be Brookstone Bay, Fed Ex Together, Latest Version, He Could Be the One, and Dealadash. They have all won or placed in graded stakes.

Jones will also be ready for the Grade 1, $1,145,000 Ed Burke Million on Saturday night with five juveniles in the finals, including the second-fastest qualifier, Wave Carver, an undefeated full brother to 2004's champion 2-year-old, Ocean Runaway.

The Mike Joiner-trained Identity Theft topped the qualifiers with a trial victory in 17.425 seconds for 350 yards, racing greenly during his first nighttime start.

Sam Houston opens with trials

The 38-date summer Quarter Horse season at Sam Houston Race Park begins Friday night with the trials to the Grade 3 Bayer Legend Texas Derby Challenge and the Grade 3 John Deere Texas Challenge.

Trials were scheduled for the MBNA America Texas Challenge for older horses, but when only 12 horses entered the trials, it was decided to cancel the trials and allow all 12 horses to run in the finals on July 9. SLM Snowman will head the finals when he returns to the scene of his 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1, $300,000 MBNA America Challenge Championship on Nov. 6.

In the Bayer Legend Texas Derby Challenge trials for 3-year-olds, the Ruidoso Futurity winner, All About Ease, will make her Sam Houston debut - and her first start in six months - in the third of three trials. She will meet the Longhorn Derby winner, Kathys Star Quest, who raced in the Retama Park Derby last Saturday night.

In the John Deere Challenge for females, Sixes Miss Perry looks for her first victory in more than a year, her last being the Grade 3 Texas Distaff Challenge.

The Sam Houston season runs until Sept. 11 with a Friday-through-Sunday weekly schedule. First post time is 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoon cards start at 1:30 p.m.

A total of 30 stakes - with total purses of more than $1 million - will be offered, including the Grade 1 Sam Houston Futurity (Sept. 10), the Grade 2 Sam Houston Derby (Sept. 10), and the four-stakes Texas Summer Showdown for Texas-breds (July 29). The leading stakes trainers pointing for these races include Janet VanBebber, Heath Taylor, John Buchanan, and Toby Keeton.

Excluding fees paid by horsemen in stakes nominating and sustaining fees, the average daily purse distribution will be $50,000, according Sam Houston's racing secretary, Eric Johnston.