07/05/2013 3:54PM

Los Alamitos: Deniro continues comeback in Vessels Maturity

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Deniro nearly ran out of time to be ready for the Vessels Maturity time trials at Los Alamitos on June 16.

Following a win in the Los Alamitos Super Derby last November and a fifth-place finish in the Champion of Champions last December, Deniro underwent surgery on his throat and ankle earlier this year.

He recovered to make his first start of the year in the Vessels Maturity trials, winning the first of two 400-yard divisions and setting the fastest qualifying time of 19.46 seconds for Sunday’s $167,900 final. The Vessels final will reveal whether that hurried schedule took a toll.

“We had a tight training schedule with him,” trainer Jose de la Torre said after the trial. “Everything had to go right. We almost didn’t make it.”

Deniro will be favored to win the 400-yard Vessels Maturity, the leading race of the summer for older Quarter Horses at Los Alamitos. The winner receives an automatic berth to the $750,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 14, a race that plays a pivotal role in year-end championship voting.

Owned by Shane O’Leary, Mike Hickman, and Scott Brundridge, who live in and around Benton City, Wash., Deniro has won 6 of 14 starts and $492,443. In the Vessels trials, Deniro was away well and was pulling away from rivals at the finish.

De la Torre also saddles the second-fastest qualifier in Last to Fire, who was timed in 19.47 seconds when winning the second trial. Third in the Southern California Derby last December, Last to Fire has yet to win a major stakes. He was ninth in the Los Alamitos Super Derby last November, but was essentially eliminated after a poor start.

The field for the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity also includes Pk Fire, who was third in the 2012 Vessels Maturity; Jess Featureme Quick, the winner of the Hobbs America Derby at Zia Park last October; and Bills Last, who was second in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship to 2012 Champion of Champions winner Rylees Boy.

Bills Last, second to Deniro in the Vessels trials; and Jess Featureme Quick, who was second to Last to Fire, are trained by Paul Jones. They started in the All American Derby last year, with Jess Featureme Quick third, and Bills Last fifth.

The Vessels Maturity trial was the first start in California for Jess Featureme Quick.