11/22/2007 1:00AM

Be a Bono jumps right into deep end

EmailFor the third time in his career, Be a Bono, the 6-year-old Quarter Horse, is returning from a knee operation. This time, the stakes could not be higher.

Saturday evening at Los Alamitos, Be a Bono is one of 21 horses running in three divisions of the 400-yard Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials. Only the trial winner with the fastest time will join the winners of nine major stakes earlier this year in the $1 million Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos on Dec. 15.

Be a Bono has 13 wins in 24 career starts, earnings of $1,308,310, and has won such major races as the 2003 Golden State Futurity, 2004 Los Alamitos Super Derby, and 2006 Go Man Go Handicap. He has never won the Champion of Champions, but finished second by a nose in both 2004 and 2006.

To qualify for the Champion of Champions next month, Be a Bono must run brilliantly in Saturday's 10th race, the final trial. Owned by Spencer Childers, Be a Bono must beat fellow millionaire Catchmeinyourdreams; Leading Spirit, the winner of the 2005 Rainbow Futurity; and Separate Bet, the winner of the 2006 Rainbow Derby.

The trials will be Be a Bono's first start since a fifth-place finish in the Kaweah Bar Handicap in April. Following that race, he underwent surgery to have a bone chip removed from a knee, according to trainer Dan Francisco.

The recovery time included a stem cell procedure designed to regenerate tissue growth. In the procedure, fat cells are harvested from the hind end of the injured horse and developed into stem cells through a laboratory procedure. The cells are then injected directly into the injured area to promote healing. The latest procedure was the second time in Be a Bono's career that he has undergone such an operation.

"He's had three different knee operations," Francisco said. "The last two, they did the stem cell [procedure], and it seems to work."

Francisco said that Be a Bono has worked well recently, including 350 yards in 18 seconds from the gate on Nov. 13.

"He turned in a real good work last week, good enough that I think he is fit," Francisco said. "He doesn't have the benefit of a race under his belt before he goes into this deal. He's in a good heat. He'll see some horses he'll have to hook up with."

By the time the field enters the gate for the third trial, the time needed to qualify will be known.

The first division is led by Apollitical Time, the champion aged horse and aged mare of 2006. The second division features No Secrets Here, the winner of the 2006 All American Futurity.