07/12/2013 3:05PM

Los Alamitos: Last to Fire comes up big-time in Vessels Maturity

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After losing his first six starts in stakes finals, Last to Fire finally had a breakthrough performance in the $167,900 Vessels Maturity at Los Alamitos on July 7.

The result changes his career. With the win, Last to Fire earned an automatic berth to the $750,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos on Dec. 14, a race that plays a pivotal role in year-end championship voting.

“After a long time of trying to win one, this feels great,” co-owner Jesus Avila said after leaving the winner’s circle.

Avila, of Long Beach, Calif., owns Last to Fire with Jesus Cuevas of Fresno. Since late 2011, they have watched Last to Fire finish third in the Golden State Million and second in the Los Alamitos Two Million at 2; fifth in the Golden State Derby, ninth in the Los Alamitos Super Derby, and third in the Southern California Derby last year; and fourth in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship earlier this year.

The consolation to those losses was the paydays. Last to Fire has earned $662,545 in his career. He has won 6 of 17 starts, with most of the victories coming in trial races for major stakes.

Last to Fire joins Rylees Boy, winner of the Los Alamitos Winter Championship in February, and Priceless Feature, winner of the Remington Park Championship on June 1, as qualifiers for the Champion of Champions.

Last to Fire, trained by Jose de la Torre, is likely to be raced sparingly before the 440-yard Champion of Champions. Races such as the Go Man Go Handicap on Sept. 15 or the Los Alamitos Championship on Oct. 13 will be considered.

De la Torre began training Last to Fire earlier this year. Last to Fire emerged from the Winter Championship with a quarter crack that needed time to heal.

“When he runs fresh, he’s tough,” de la Torre said.

Last to Fire won the Vessels Maturity over 400 yards by a half-length over Jess Featureme Quick, winner of the Hobbs America Derby at Zia Park last fall. The disappointment in the race was the de la Torre-trained Deniro, winner of the Super Derby last November. Deniro could finish only fourth in his second start of 2013.

De la Torre thought Deniro bounced after a win in a trial race for the Vessels Maturity on June 16.