07/27/2005 11:00PM

One race Be a Bono can't miss

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What better way to celebrate your first Horse of the Year than to win a stakes named in your honor?

Last summer, Quarter Horse owner-breeder Spencer Childers, 93, watched his Be a Bono win the Spencer Childers Championship Handicap at Los Alamitos.

Last month, after Be a Bono won the Vessels Maturity, Childers knew where the gelding would make his next start. "I guess we'll run him in the Spencer Childers," Spencer Childers deadpanned.

Saturday's $160,750 Childers Handicap is the top race for older horses on Saturday's 14-race California Champions Night for statebred Quarter Horses.

The card features three other races worth $50,000 or more - the $411,000 Governor's Cup Futurity at 350 yards, the $130,500 Governor's Cup Derby at 400 yards, and the $54,200 Matron Stakes for fillies and mares at 400 yards.

The presence of Be a Bono, the reigning Quarter Horse of the Year, gives an already prominent event further prestige.

Be a Bono, 4, has won 9 of 12 starts and $910,287. In early June, he finished a career-worst fourth in the time trials for the Vessels Maturity after breaking through the gate before the start. The result ended a streak of 10 consecutive first- or second-place finishes dating back to the start of his career in 2003.

"He was really feeling good going into those trials, got overanxious, and false broke," trainer Dan Francisco said. "He broke through the gate and it knocked him silly."

Be a Bono, and his backers, shrugged off that mishap. In the $134,800 Vessels final on June 25, Be a Bono finished a nose in front of Brookstone Bay, one of his six opponents in Saturday's race.

The narrow victory was typical of Be a Bono's style. Since winning a time trial by a length in October 2003, he has won six races by no more than a neck.

There are standouts in the other three major stakes.

In the Governor's Cup Futurity, Finding Nemo, third in the Ed Burke Memorial Futurity on June 25, will be a short-priced favorite. Finding Nemo was the fastest qualifier in the Governor's Cup time trials.

Apollitical Time leads the Governor's Cup Derby. The fastest qualifier, Apollitical Time is trying for her seventh consecutive win.

In the Matron Stakes, Mini Rock, trained by Blane Schvaneveldt, will be favored in her first start since winning the Grade 1 Charger Bar Handicap in January.