02/01/2006 12:00AM

Los Al Millions top two face off in Winter Derby


The top two finishers in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Los Alamitos Million, Value the Man and Higher Fire, start off their 3-year-old seasons in Friday night's trials to the Grade 1, $210,550 Los Alamitos Winter Derby.

Value the Man upset Higher Fire in the Los Alamitos Million when he ran the best race of his career to win by a half-length at 10-1. The Million win, in 19.56 seconds for 400 yards, was his third win in his last five starts.

Higher Fire was named the 2005 champion 2-year-old, even with the Los Alamitos Million loss in her final 2005 start. But the loss did cost her the $1 million Los Alamitos Cash Bonanza, a bonus that goes to the connections of any horse who can win the three $1 million futurities at Los Alamitos. She previously won the Ed Burke Million and the Golden State Million, the two other races required to take the Los Alamitos Cash Bonanza.

Higher Fire is making her first start for owner Julianna Hawn Holt, who purchased the filly from breeder Dutch Masters III last week. Jaime Gomez, who trained Higher Fire for Dutch Masters III to over $1.2 million in earnings, continues to train the filly.

"As long as she comes back healthy after each race, we'll keep going," Gomez, said. "We'll take it race by race."

Dutch Masters III, which sold Higher Fire, will be represented by the Grade 1 Kindergarten winner Gold Nugget Rd in the Winter Derby trials. Also trained by Gomez, Gold Nugget Rd is looking for his first win since the Kindergarten on May 14.

The 10 fastest qualifiers are eligible for the 400-yard finals on Feb. 24.

Champion of Champions runners back

Like Frankie and Me, LDS Dash for Dylan, and Whosleavingwho, three competitors in the Grade 1 Champion of Champions on Dec. 10, will try to take the first step towards this year's Champion of Champions in the trials to the Grade 1, $200,000 Los Alamitos Winter Championship at 400 yards on Saturday night.

The horses with the 10 fastest times in the trials will qualify for the Winter Championship on Feb. 25. The Winter Championship winner receives the first invitation to the $600,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 9 at Los Alamitos.

Like Frankie and Me finished second to Ocean Runaway in the 2005 Champion of Champions at 55-1. He then finished sixth in the Grade 1, $400,000 The Championship at Sunland Park, his most recent start on Dec. 30.

The 4-year-old LDS Dash for Dylan won five straight races before finishing fourth in the Champion of Champions. During his winning streak he won three stakes at Los Alamitos, including a late-running win in the Grade 1 Bayer Legend Derby Challenge Championship.

Whosleavingwho, sixth in the Champion of Champions, won the 2003 and 2005 runnings of the Winter Championship. After his half-length win in the 2005 Winter Championship, he was given a seven-month rest and came back to win the Grade 1 Go Man Go Invitational.