08/17/2012 1:55PM

Los Alamitos: Little Bit of Baja looks to earn Challenge Championship berth


Van rides are an integral part of Little Bit of Baja’s season, and may continue to be.

Already this year, the 8-year-old gelding has raced at Sunland Park and Remington Park in divisions of the Bank of America Challenge Championship series, finishing sixth and fourth.

Sunday, Little Bit of Baja starts from the outside post in the $69,840 Bank of America California Regional Challenge at Los Alamitos. A victory would finally give Little Bit of Baja an elusive automatic berth to the $350,000 Challenge Championship at Prairie Meadows on Oct. 27 – and result in yet another van ride.

Despite the gelding’s advanced age, trainer Francisco Ramirez is confident that Little Bit of Baja can be a factor in Sunday’s race over 440 yards.

“I like the post position for him,” Ramirez said. “He doesn’t break too fast. He’ll have his room. The distance will help him, too.”

Owned by Vessels Stallion Farm and the Los Bustardos partnership, Little Bit of Baja has won 6 of 29 starts and $872,636. He is one of two starters for Ramirez in the California Challenge Championship, joined by the 5-year-old gelding Sparky E Boy, who was second by a nose in the Champion of Champions last December. Little Bit of Baja, who won the 2007 Los Alamitos Super Derby, was second in the Champion of Champions in 2007 and 2008.

Little Bit of Baja has been fourth in two starts in California this summer with Ramirez, including a fourth in the California Breeders’ Sprint over 350 yards on July 28.

“We knew it would be a little short for him,” Ramirez said. “It should help him for this race. We know if he’s good at the start, he’ll be tough at the end.”

Sparky E Boy has not raced since finishing eighth in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship in February. He battled a foot abscess earlier this summer, but has recovered Ramirez said.

“I think he’s the one to beat,” he said. “We had a little trouble with him a couple of weeks ago, but he’s 100 percent.”

Ramirez’s duo will face a challenge from Forrest Fire, who won the Katella Handicap in March, and Shining First Dash, third in the Spencer Childers Championship for California-breds on July 28.

Ramirez expects to win with one of his entrants and earn a spot in the Prairie Meadows final.

“I really like my chances with both of them,” Ramirez said.