12/07/2005 1:00AM

Higher Fire eyes $1.5M payday

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Higher Fire races for a shot at collecting nearly $1.6 million and the title of all-time leading money earner when she meets familiar foe Teller Cartel, winner of the All American Futurity, in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Los Alamitos Million on Friday night.

A victory in the 400-yard Million would earn Higher Fire $597,600 from the race's purse and the $1 million Los Alamitos Cash Bonanza - a cash award, not an annuity. That bonus goes to the connections of any horse who can win the Ed Burke, the Golden State, and the Los Alamitos, the Southern California track's three $1 million futurities. She has already won the first two futurities for owner Dutch Masters III and trainer Jaime Gomez.

Higher Fire, who has earned $967,573, would increase her career earnings to $2,565,173, surpassing all-time leading money earner Refrigerator's $2,126,309.

Higher Fire finished with a strong acceleration for her two $1 million futurity victories. She drew away from Fishers Tale to take the 350-yard Ed Burke Million and rallied to win the 400-yard Golden State Million over Wave Carver and Teller Cartel.

Teller Cartel, who has earned $1,140,271, has faced Higher Fire in each of their last three starts, with Teller Cartel winning their two meetings in trial races. In the Golden State Million trials, Teller Cartel finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Higher Fire, who finished third. In the Los Alamitos Million trials, Teller Cartel set the fastest qualifying time of 19.535 seconds for 400 yards while winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Higher Fire, who has the sixth-fastest qualifying time of 19.740 seconds.

From the stable of leading trainer Paul Jones, Teller Cartel won his maiden in the $1.9 million All American Futurity in a furious rainstorm over a muddy track. Since that Labor Day victory, he has shown that he is more than an off-track specialist with his recent success on fast tracks at Los Alamitos.

Finding Nemo comes into the race with five straight victories, including the Grade 1 Governor's Cup Futurity and the Grade 1 Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association Breeders Futurity. A small, athletic colt, Finding Nemo had a rough trip in the Governor's Cup Futurity and fought to earn a nose win, and then romped home by 1 1/4 lengths in the PCQHRA Futurity.

After the PCQHRA Futurity win on Oct. 1, trainer Denny Ekins gave Finding Nemo a rest, passing the Golden State Million, and the colt returned on Nov. 25 with a one-length win in his Los Alamitos Million trial in 19.620 seconds, the fourth-fastest qualifying time.

Ocean Runaway a threat in Champion of Champions

Ekins could have a sensational weekend at Los Alamitos. In addition to Finding Nemo in the Los Alamitos Million, Ekins starts Ocean Runaway, coming off a track-record win, in the Grade 1, $500,000 Champion of Champions on Saturday night.

Ocean Runaway raced 400 yards in a track-record 19.305 seconds to win his Z. Wayne Griffin Director's Trial and earn his berth in the Champion of Champions. The 2004 champion 2-year-old, Ocean Runaway won the Grade 2 PCQHRA Breeders Derby and was then upset in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby by Apollitical Time, who earned the derby's Champion of Champions invitation.

Joining Ocean Runaway and Apollitical Time in a strong 3-year-old contingent in the Champion of Champions is LDS Dash for Dylan, a tall, long-striding gelding who has won five straight races and should relish 440 yards.

Leading the older horses in the field are two-time 2005 Grade 1 winner Catchmeinyourdreams and Grade 1 Go Man Go Handicap winner Whosleavingwho, the 2002 Champion of Champions winner, who is racing in his fourth straight Champion of Champions.

* Los Alamitos will offer a $50,000-guaranteed Champions pick four wager covering stakes races on Friday through Sunday nights. A winning wager requires selecting the winners of the Los Alamitos Million and Los Alamitos Juvenile Invitational on Friday night, the Champion of Champions on Saturday, and the First Down Dash Handicap on Sunday.