12/02/2009 1:00AM

Shining First Dash shoots for top dollar


Shining First Dash caught owner Gary Muller and trainer Dennis Ekins's attention in the spring when the 2-year-old Quarter Horse colt was approaching his first start at Los Alamitos.

The public was not as impressed. Shining First Dash was 51-1 for his debut on May 2, a price that was fine with Muller, especially when a half-length win produced a $104 mutuel.

Shining First Dash has since gone on to qualify for three futurities - and finished second in two of them, the $426,000 Governor's Cup Futurity and the $1.27 million Golden State Million.

Shining First Dash will be after the season's biggest prize - the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity - on Dec. 11. He was the eighth-fastest qualifier from 12 time trials on Nov. 21, and has the highest career earnings, $309,852, of the 10 finalists.

"We've always liked this horse," Ekins said on Wednesday, noting that Muller had bet on him the night he made his debut. "We felt pretty comfortable that he was a nice horse. He didn't have any blistering works, and that's the kind of horse he is. He doesn't work that fast."

In the Los Alamitos Two Million trials, Shining First Dash was hand-ridden to a half-length win by regular rider Santiago Mendez. He finished in 19.71 seconds, a time that is roughly 1 1/4 lengths slower than fastest qualifier Apollitcal Jess's time of 19.45.

Shining First Dash has won 3 of 8 starts. He was beaten just a half-length by The Partys on Fire in the Golden State Million on Oct. 30.

"He ran an awfully good race in the trials, and in the final of his previous futurity," Ekins said. "He's a really good-looking horse. He's absolutely stunning to look at."

While eight races is a busy campaign, Ekins said that a late-summer break for Shining First Dash was pivotal for a fall campaign.

"I don't think we've taken too much out of him," he said.

Muller, of Kansas City, and Ekins, know what it takes to win the Los Alamitos Two Million. They won the race with Ocean Runaway in 2004 when it was worth "just" $1,509,424. The purse has since been raised to $2 million.

"Two Million races are few and far between," Ekins said.

Ocean Runaway was one of the finest Quarter Horses of this decade. He won the prestigious Champion of Champions at 3 in 2005 and won divisional championships at 2 and 3. Sadly, he died of an unknown illness earlier this year, Ekins said.

"That was a tremendous loss for the industry and us personally," Ekins said. "We got his babies running, and there will be quite a few of them in the next few years."