11/17/2010 3:21PM

Stolis Winner on brink of passing Refrigerator on all-time money list

Lone Star Park
Stolis Winner needs only finish seventh or better on Friday night to surpass Refrigerator's money record of $2,126,309.

The $1.1 million Challenge Championships at Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Friday night will bring together some of the best Quarter Horses in training to compete in a series of divisional stakes. The program is topped by four Grade 1 events, including the $350,000 Championship in which Stolis Winner bids to become the all-time richest Quarter Horse.

Fair Grounds is hosting the traveling championship series for the first time, and is putting on a special night program that begins at 5 p.m. Central. The entire 13-race card is made up of stakes, with the horses in the six main Challenge Championship races having qualified to compete earlier in the year by winning designated stakes in either North or South America.

Stolis Winner, the world champion in 2008, earned his berth after winning the Grade 1 Texas Challenge Championship at Sam Houston in August. He is now $7,328 from breaking Refrigerator’s record of $2,126,309 in career earnings, and needs to finish seventh or better Friday night to set a new mark. But the focus for the 440-yard race Friday is not the record, but winning, said Heath Taylor, who trains Stolis Winner.

“I think this horse is very, very deserving,” Taylor said of the record. “I think it will mean more maybe later than now, because right now, you just want the horse to win and run good. But to sit back even now and think, ‘Well, there’s only been one Quarter Horse that’s ever loaded into the starting gate or had a racing bridle put on his head that’s ever made more money,’ it’s very humbling.”

Stolis Winner has been edged in each of his last two starts, beaten a head in the Grade 1 Refrigerator at Lone Star Park on Oct. 2 when losing a front shoe. In his subsequent start, he was second in second in the Grade 3 B.F. Phillips at Lone Star on Oct. 30.

“He stumbled at the start again, lost his hind end quite a bit leaving the gate, and it cost him a lot of ground,” said Taylor.

Stolis Winner has had his share of less than ideal starts of late, and some of that has to do with how he has matured physically. He’s something of a Zenyatta for his breed, Taylor said, as the horse stands about 16.1 hands tall, and when last weighed checked in at 1,390 pounds. Taylor said the average Quarter Horse is about 15.2, and might weigh 1,150.

“He breaks so hard that he just pulls the ground completely out from under him, and then he just overcompensates the second, third jump because he wants to get to the front so much,” Taylor said. “The frustrating thing is that the horse is trying to break so fast.

Taylor is hoping for a sharp break from Stolis Winner, who comes out of gate 3 under Jarrod Deschamp.

The chief threat appears to be Jess You and I, the winner of the Grade 1 Oklahoma Challenge Championship at Remington Park in May. He finished an uncharacteristic seventh in the Refrigerator.

“He didn’t get away good and they kind of shut him off,” said Toby Keeton, who trains Jess You and I. “It was just a disaster that day. He came back after that race and was mad more than anything else. I’ve worked him back at Lone Star and he had the bullet work of the day. I look for him to run a big race.”

Jess You and I has already earned a starting berth in the Grade 1, $750,000 Champion of Champions next month at Los Alamitos. The winner of Friday’s Challenge Championship will also be invited to compete.

Spit Curl Diva back with fillies

Spit Curl Diva returns to racing with fillies and mares in the Grade 1, $125,000 Merial Distaff after defeating both Stolis Winner and Jess You and I in the Refrigerator.

“Oh my gosh, was that exciting,” said Jody Brown, who trains Spit Curl Diva. “There was a lot of talk about her being the only filly and running against boys. There were some really, really good horses in there.

“That’s one of things I love about training her. You know when you put her on the track she’s going to give you everything she has.”

Spit Curl Diva is 7 for 8 in 2010 and is headed next to the Champion of Champions.