10/29/2009 12:00AM

Farias pair tough in Challenge


To gain a berth in Saturday's $350,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos, Little Bit of Baja was sent from California all the way to Prairie Meadows in Iowa to win a regional qualifying race in August.

The plan worked for owners Vessels Stallion Farm and Los Bustardos and trainer Adan Farias. Little Bit of Baja, a 5-year-old gelding, won the Central Challenge Championship by a whopping 2 1/2 lengths. To win Saturday's race over 440 yards, Little Bit of Baja must prove he can beat the Farias-trained Fighter on Fire, who won the California Challenge Championship on Aug. 22.

At stake is a lucrative prize and an automatic berth in the $750,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 12, a race that annually plays a pivotal role in the World Championship voting. Little Bit of Baja was second in the 2007 and 2008 Champion of Champions.

"We needed to take a different route," Scoop Vessels said of Little Bit of Baja's preparation for the Champion of Champions. "He's been in there twice and he's been second twice, but we've not had a fresh horse. I want to give him a legitimate shot at being fresh. We got extremely lucky [in Iowa] and now we're in the Challenge race."

Farias has the leading contenders in the Challenge Championship, the most lucrative of 11 races Saturday, nine of which are stakes. The Challenge Championship has drawn 11, all of whom won or placed in stakes in the series in North America this year.

Rylees Boy, trained by former leading jockey Joe Badilla Jr., has won his last five starts, including the West-Southwest Challenge Championship at Turf Paradise on Oct. 18, the latest qualifier.

Snip N Dale won his seventh consecutive race in the Northwest Challenge Championship at Wyoming Downs on July 18. The winning streak ended with a second in the Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap after a bump at the start at Los Alamitos on Oct. 2.

Saturday, there are five stakes worth $125,000 or more at Los Alamitos, including the Challenge Distance Championship over 870 yards that includes the brilliant Snowbound Superstar. Trained by Paul Jones, Snowbound Superstar has won 15 consecutive races at the distance, including the 2007 Challenge Distance Championship. He won the California Distance Championship here Sept. 27, despite losing ground at the start, getting in traffic on the turn, and racing wide.

"He made every mistake there is," Jones said. "He didn't break, he got shut off down the backstretch, and he blew the turn. When you make all three, it usually gets you beat.

"The best way is to describe him is he kind of lives up to his name. He's really a great horse. He's not your average, everyday horse."

Snowbound Superstar must beat Gone to the Mountain, who holds the 870-yard world record of 43.02 seconds, set in a stakes at Sunland Park in April. Gone to the Mountain got within a neck of Snowbound Superstar in the Oklahoma Distance Championship at Remington Park in May.

Jones has two leading contenders in the $125,000 Distaff Challenge Championship over 400 yards - Strength in Numbers and Stylish Jess Br, both major stakes winners at Los Alamitos.

"Stylish Jess has definitely done more lately," Jones said. "I really like the way Strength in Numbers is coming into the race."