01/31/2007 12:00AM

Be a Bono returns amid sadness

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Trials to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby and the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship will be held on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and there will be mixed emotions in the Be a Bono camp during the Championship trials.

Spencer Childers, 95, owns Be a Bono, the 2004 world champion who begins his fifth racing season in the Championship trials. That's the good. The sad is that the race comes just nine days after the death of Florence Childers, the owner's wife.

Florence was active in the day-to-day operation of Childers Ranch in Fresno, Calif., and cared for Be a Bono during his racing layoffs. The Childerses have bred at least one champion in every decade since the 1950's.

The homebred Be a Bono is the most recent champion to be building the Childers's legacy. The long-striding gelding may have been a nose away from another world championship in 2006, but did not earn any championship award. He furiously charged in the final half of the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 9, his latest start, and came up a diminishing nose short of the eventual world champion, Wave Carver. Gotta Get, undefeated in seven 2006 starts, was named the champion aged gelding, but Be a Bono could have surpassed him and Wave Carver in the championship voting with a Champion of Champions victory.

Last year, before his Champion of Champions victory, Be a Bono scored Grade 1 wins in the Vessels Maturity, Spencer Childers California Breeders Championship, and the Go Man Go Handicap.

Also in Saturday's 400-yard Championship trials are the 2005 Grade 1 El Primero Del Ano Derby winner Dutch Schultz, the 2006 Grade 1 El Primero Del Ano Derby winner Volcom, and the Grade 1 Southern California Derby winner Spike It and Fly.

In Friday's 400-yard derby trials, trainer Jaime Gomez sends out Grade 1 Governor's Cup Futurity winner Checknbac and Holiday Handicap winner Jess Sass Me.

Checknbac dead-heated for the win in the Governor's Cup Futurity with stablemate Tac It Like a Man. He is making his first start since a third as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity on Oct. 7.

Jess Sass Me comes off her half-length win in the Holiday Handicap. She has 3 wins, 1 second, and 1 third from 5 starts.

The Winter Derby and the Winter Championship each carry a $200,000 guaranteed purse.

A Long Goodbye at home

A Long Goodbye returns to his favorite straightaway - Sunland Park - carrying high weight of 126 pounds in the $50,000 FOFX-FM Handicap on Saturday afternoon.

A Long Goodbye won last year's running with a fast 17.13-second time for the 350 yards. He also excels at longer distances, setting the 440-yard world record of 20.68 seconds when he won the 2005 MBNA America New Mexico Challenge at Sunland Park.

A Long Goodbye has four stakes wins at Sunland Park, including 3-straight stakes last year.

Thrill and Grace vs. Zoomin for Bux

The promising Thrill and Grace meets Grade 1 winner and track-record holder Zoomin for Bux in the Grade 2, $255,092 Harrah's Entertainment Derby at Louisiana Downs on Saturday.

Thrill and Grace is a promising derby horse for trainer James Lackey, ticking off three wins after finishing second in her career debut. She won her trials to two Grade 1 futurities, and her time of 20.052 seconds for 400 yards in her Harrah's Derby trial was the fastest among four trials.

Zoomin for Bux, a close second in his derby trial, could be the derby favorite with his deep r'esum'e, which includes a track-record victory in the Grade 1 Retama Futurity.