11/01/2007 12:00AM

Start crucial to Strawkins's chances

EmailThe first three strides of Saturday's $300,000 Bank of America Racing Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos will be the most important steps that Strawkins takes in the 440-yard race for older Quarter Horses.

To have any chance to win the richest race on a night of 13 stakes, Strawkins has to be perfect from the gate.

A 4-year-old gelding trained by Paul Jones, Strawkins has had sketchy gate manners this year. He had a fine start when he won the California Challenge Championship in August, qualifying for Saturday's race, but was only fifth in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Championship last month after a poor start.

"He didn't really run a good race," Jones said. "I think he got crowded a little and didn't get a good start. He ran a super race the time before."

The Challenge Championship brings together the winners of regional races run earlier this year throughout the western half of North America.

Strawkins, the champion 3-year-old gelding of 2006, is the most accomplished member of a field that includes LDS Dash for Dylan, who was third in the 2006 Challenge Championship at Lone Star Park, and Angelas Toast, a Louisiana-based gelding who has won 16 of 24 starts.

LDS Dash for Dylan, a large horse who measures 17-1 hands, qualified for Saturday's race by winning the Northwest Challenge Championship at Boise, Idaho, in June. He was sixth in the Go Man Go Handicap over 400 yards at Los Alamitos in September.

"He didn't leave very sharp," trainer Bret Vickery said. "I had just hauled him [to California] and he wasn't as sharp as he could have been. He made a big run on the end. The 400 was not enough ground for him."

Saturday's program features five stakes worth $100,000 or more.

Snowbound Superstar, one of the finest 870-yard specialists in history, will be a heavy favorite in the $100,000 Distance Challenge Championships. Jones trains the 4-year-old gelding.

What a Performance, winner of the Grade 1 Charger Bar Handicap at Los Alamitos in January, leads the $100,000 Distaff Challenge Championship.

In the $150,000 Juvenile Challenge Championship over 350 yards, the Idaho invader Gomez Palacio will try to extend his six-race winning streak.

In the $200,000 Derby Challenge Championship, Vickery starts Sold On Special, a stakes winner earlier this year in Idaho.

"She's a solid filly," Vickery said. "She's on top of her game."