Updated on 09/17/2011 7:06PM

Be a Bono in tough in Champions dash

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. - Even considering he's a Quarter Horse, Be a Bono has made a career of winning major races by narrow margins.

Three times, Be a Bono has won stakes by a head. Once he won by a neck. In each race, all over 400 yards, Be a Bono quickened in the final 50 yards to snatch the win.

The success makes Be a Bono, 3, the horse to beat in the $500,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos on Saturday night. The race marks Be a Bono's first start at 440 yards.

"He's been begging for a quarter-mile since late in his 2-year-old year," said his trainer, Dan Francisco.

Owned by the 92-year-old Spencer Childers, Be a Bono has won 8 of 9 starts and $765,571.

A win Saturday would give Be a Bono the Horse of the Year title. Of the 32 previous Champion of Champions winners, 22 earned that award.

The race has drawn a tough field.

Be a Bono, Buccaneer Beach, Catchmeinyourdreams, Mongoose Jet Eye, Silent Overdrive, and SLM Snowman qualified by winning major stakes this year in California or Texas.

A Regal Choice, Brookstone Bay, Cash for Kas, and Whosleavingwho (the 2002 winner of the Champion of Champions) qualified through time trials on Nov. 19.

Be a Bono enters the Champion of Champions as the nation's top 3-year-old male. His chief rivals are the older horses Catchmeinyourdreams and SLM Snowman, who are also candidates for Horse of the Year.

Catchmeinyourdreams won the Los Alamitos Championship on Oct. 16. He was second in the 2003 Champion of Champions when he was plagued by sore feet.

SLM Snowman is the top contender from the Midwest. Unbeaten in five starts this year, he won the AQHA Challenge Championship at Sam Houston Race Park on Nov. 6. SLM Snowman, 4, races for Steve and Lindsey Mitchell and trainer Don Mourning, who won the Champion of Champions in 1997 and 1998 with SLM Big Daddy.

Be a Bono starts in post 8, surrounded by Whosleavingwho to his inside and Catchmeinyourdreams.

"The old seasoned horses, you can't count them out. They're here for a reason," Francisco said. "Whether he can run with them, we're fixing to find out."

Post positions were selected by connections, similar to the format used for the Kentucky Derby. Christopher O'Dell, who trains Catchmeinyourdreams, wanted to be close to Be a Bono.

"He doesn't get beat on the outside," O'Dell said of Catchmeinyourdreams. "Be a Bono will be running late and he's one we'll have to reckon with."