02/22/2012 3:46PM

Los Alamitos: El Aguila Real gives young owner a thrill

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. – El Aguila Real earned an automatic berth for the $750,000 Champion of Champions with his victory in the $226,050 Los Alamitos Winter Championship last Sunday at Los Alamitos.

The problem for El Aguila Real is that the Champion of Champions is still 10 months away, on Dec. 15.

The victory left 21-year-old owner Bianca Mendez in tears. In December, she was grinning ear to ear, somewhat amazed, that El Aguila Real had won the Southern California Derby at Los Alamitos. The Los Alamitos Winter Championship was against a different class of horses, featuring two former champions in Jess You and I and Noconi, as well as Senor Toby, who was after his eighth straight win.

In the Winter Championship, El Aguila Real led throughout, winning by three-quarters of a length over Senor Toby. “It keeps getting better and better,” an elated Mendez said in the winner’s circle. “It’s very exciting, especially when you’re so young and you get to jump so high.”

El Aguila Real is officially trained by Francisco Vallejo, but Mendez admits that she does much of the work. She said she plans to gain a trainer’s license in the future. The horse is already a family affair. El Aguila Real was ridden by her brother-in-law, Cruz Mendez. Bianca’s husband, Santiago, is a jockey at Los Alamitos, but currently sidelined with a hip injury.

El Aguila Real, a winner of 6 of 15 starts and $203,216, will be rested this spring, with an expected return to racing in the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity, which has trials in June and a final on July 8. Keeping the 4-year-old in top form through the year will be difficult. “It’s so exciting to know that he’s made it through to the Champion of Champions,” Mendez said.

Trainer Jaime Gomez, who recently won his 1,000th race at Los Alamitos, said after the Winter Championship that Senor Toby will be rested until the Vessels Maturity.

Plans for Jess You and I, the 8-year-old gelding who finished fourth but was disqualified and placed seventh for causing interference, are not confirmed.

This week, Jess You and I was scheduled to go to the List family’s Double Bar S Ranch in Southern California for a rest, with the possibility that he could be retired. Jess You and I has won 19 of 37 starts and $1,819,669. A decision on his future will be made in coming months, co-owner Dawn List said.