02/09/2006 1:00AM

Hall of Famer Walter Merrick dies at age 94

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Hall of Fame owner, breeder, and trainer Walter Merrick, of Sayre, Okla., died on Feb. 4. He was 94.

Merrick, who had been influential in Quarter Horse racing since the 1930's, bred, owned, and trained 1969 world champion Easy Jet, a winner of 27 of 38 starts who went on to become the all-time leading sire by money earned by offspring ($26,237,832) before being passed by Dash for Cash, First Down Dash, and Chicks Beduino.

Merrick was one of the first breeders to aggressively incorporate Thoroughbred bloodlines in his Quarter Horses. Easy Jet, a son of 1963 world champion Jet Deck, was out of the Thoroughbred Lena's Bar, a daughter of Three Bars. The Thoroughbred Three Bars was another leading sire who stood at Merrick's 14 Ranch.

Merrick is a member of the AQHA Hall of Fame and the Ruidoso Downs Racehorse Hall of Fame.

Merrick's wife, Tien, died in December. The couple married in 1928 when Merrick was a teenaged cowboy in Oklahoma.

Six Maiden Stakes trials at Los Alamitos

Im Alright Now, third in the Super Bowl Handicap, heads a group of late-developing young horses in the six 350-yard trials to the $125,000 Maiden Stakes on Friday night at Los Alamitos.

The Maiden Stakes is restricted to 3-year-olds who were still maidens on Dec. 1, 2005. Last year, LDS Dash for Dylan won the Maiden Stakes and went on to capture the Grade 1 Bayer Legend Derby Challenge and finish fourth in the Champion of Champions.

The 10 fastest qualifiers from the three trials return for the finals on March 4.

Im Alright Now, a stablemate of LDS Dash for Dylan from the Bret Vickery stable, is still a maiden but is stakes-placed, having finished third in the Super Bowl Handicap, and has been on the board in 4 of 6 starts.

Jesses Sixes, also from the Vickery barn, had the 13th fastest time to the 2005 Grade 1, $1.9 million All American Futurity. In his All American trial, he finished fourth behind Make a Secret and First Wicked Lady, the two fastest qualifiers to the All American Futurity. He comes off a maiden win in 15.43 seconds for 300 yards.

Czech Ala Susan won her first start on Dec. 10 when she rolled to a 1 1/4 length victory in a 300-yard maiden race at 8-5 odds. She then came back against winners and again won by daylight, this time at 6-5 odds, in 17.46 seconds for 350 yards.

Champions qualifying races finalized

The winners of nine Grade 1 races will receive invitations to this year's Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 9.

The Remington Park Championship has been added to the eight stakes that were part of the 2005 qualifying format. Open berths in the 2006 Champion of Champions will be filled by qualifiers from the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials.

The first invitation to this year's Champion of Champions will be awarded to the winner of the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship on Feb. 25.

2005 handle, purses increase

The final 2005 national figures for Quarter Horse handle and purses show increases from 2004, according to the American Quarter Horse Association.

Total handle was $343,731,326, an increase of 5.8 percent over 2004. Total purses were up 5.5 percent, reaching $98,630,441. It was the 10th consecutive year that Quarter Horse purses have increased.

This year's figures are projected to increase with casino revenue being added to Remington Park purses and Gulf Coast racing rebounding from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.