12/31/2003 12:00AM

With no standout, voters mull over ballots

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The nearly 100 voters who determine the 2003 world champion Quarter Horse will face a difficult choice when they receive their ballots Tuesday.

The world champion is determined by a vote of American Quarter Horse Association racing committee members and selected media members.

Historically, a Quarter Horse secures the title with a major win in a season-ending stakes race. Each of the last eight world champions won either the Grade 1 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos or the Grade 1 The Championship at Sunland Park in December of their championship year.

That may not be the case in the voting for the 2003 world champion, who will be named Jan. 21.

In the Champion of Champions, 16-1 long shot The Down Side was a 1 1/2-length winner in 19.192 seconds for 440 yards, the second-fastest time ever at Los Alamitos. Los Alamitos Derby winner AB What a Runner, the 9-5 favorite, finished sixth.

In The Championship at Sunland Park, 7-1 outsider Gone Celebrating got the win, while 2-1 favorite Oak Tree Special, a four-time Grade 1 derby winner, bumped 3-1 second-choice Catchmeinyourdreams leaving the gate and then lugged out near the midway point. Oak Tree Special crossed the finish line in fifth position but was disqualified and placed ninth. Catchmeinyourdreams, the Los Alamitos Championship winner, never recovered from the bump.

These upsets have left voters without a clear-cut choice.

"I'm thinking about all the times I have pondered who should be the world champion, and I don't think I ever have been in such a quandary," said Ben Hudson, owner of Track magazine for 30 years and a member of the AQHA racing council.

The decision may come down to an interpretation of the voting guidelines, which state: "The overall world champion shall be the horse that would emerge the winner of a hypothetical race at 440 yards at level weights for age between the three divisional champions."

Ed Burgart, the Los Alamitos morning-line maker who has followed Quarter Horse racing on a daily basis for over 25 years, said, "The most dominating performance, in my opinion, was The Down Side's win in the Champion of Champions. But The Down Side is unbeaten in three 2003 starts and has only one Grade 1 victory.

"If you forced me to pick a horse for world champion, it would be Oak Tree Special, even though I think The Down Side would crush him in a match race."

The wide-open competition could create an opportunity for a 2-year-old to be named world champion. Hawkish, the 2003 Los Alamitos horse of the meet, finished ninth as the even-money favorite in the $1.3 million Los Alamitos Million on Dec. 12.

Vals Fortune dominated 2-year-old racing in Louisiana, winning 10 of 11 starts, but each of his six stakes wins came against statebred company.

Mount Suribachi moves up to stakes

Mount Suribachi, claimed for $5,000 on June 19, climbs out of the claiming ranks and into the stakes division in the $18,000 Burbank Handicap for 4-year-olds Friday night at Los Alamitos.

Since trainer Jose Antonio Flores claimed Mount Suribachi for owner Lindolfo Diaz, Mount Suribachi has 3 wins and 2 seconds in 8 starts. Mount Suribachi comes into the 300-yard Burbank off three straight wins at 350 yards, while rising in class from the $7,500 claiming level to the $25,000 level on Dec. 7, his latest start. He won that race by 1 1/4 lengths in an excellent 17.54 seconds.

Stel Corona and Be Real Quick, who finished a nose apart while running one-two in the Sooner Trailer Stakes on Nov. 1, will test Mount Suribachi. Stel Corona won the Grade 1 PCQHRA Breeders Derby in his start before winning the Sooner Trailer Stakes.

Willie Works preps for Winter Derby

Willie Works, the 2003 Los Alamitos 2-year-old gelding of the meet, prepares for the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby when he starts in the $25,000 Cypress Handicap for 3-year-olds Saturday night at the Southern California track.

The Winter Derby trials take place Feb. 6 and the $200,000 finals take place Feb. 27.

Willie Works is making his first start since Nov. 1, when he dominated the Grade 1 American Airlines Juvenile Challenge Championship by 1 1/2 lengths in a superb 17.36 seconds for 350 yards.

Two starts back, Willie Works won the California Juvenile Challenge Championship by three-quarters of a length over the Grade 1 futurity horses Metallic Lion and Cuervo Max.

Trainer Paul Jones will be presented by Los Alamitos Million qualifier Real Quik Dasher and recent allowance winners Feet of Flames and Mocha Blast.