05/27/2009 11:00PM

Strength in Numbers still going

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As recently as last year, the career of Strength in Numbers was jeopardized by a sequence of illness and injury. A start in a race such as the Vessels Maturity trials at Los Alamitos on Saturday evening seemed improbable.

A bout with colic kept Strength in Numbers out of the $1 million Champion of Champions in December 2007, a race in which she was a leading contender. Foot problems kept her out of training for most of 2008. During her time away from racing, owner Benny Rosset bred the mare via embryo transfer.

With her victory in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Championship in 2007, she already had a coveted win at the top level, and Rosset even contemplated retiring her.

But the mare seemed to have other ideas, as conveyed by a stakes victory last November and her recent behavior on the track.

"We didn't think she'd make it back," trainer Paul Jones said. "We got her over [everything] and she started training like a million bucks."

Strength in Numbers will start in the first of three divisions of Saturday's Vessels Maturity trials. There are 21 horses entered in the 400-yard trials, seeking the 10 fastest qualifying times regardless of finishing positions. The final, worth an estimated $148,100, will be run on June 19. The winner of that race will receive an automatic berth to the $750,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 12.

Strength in Numbers has not started since finishing a troubled fourth in a division of the Los Alamitos Winter Championship trials in January. A 6-year-old, she had her last win in the Grade 2 Las Damas Handicap at 400 yards last November.

Jones was not thrilled that Strength in Numbers drew post 2 in a field of seven in the first division.

"I'm really happy with the way she's doing," he said. "She usually runs a little better from the outside post. The main thing is to qualify. She should come back good for the final."

Strength in Numbers will face three 2008 derby winners in the first trial - A Mere Chocolate (Los Alamitos Winter Derby), Really a First (Governor's Cup Derby), and Short Czech (Southern California Derby). A Mere Chocolate won a division of the Los Alamitos Winter Championship trials in January but was disqualified for causing interference and did not qualify for the final. He rebounded to win the Grade 3 Kaweah Bar Handicap at 350 yards last month.

In the second division of Saturday's trials, Jones starts Stylish Jess BR, who won the Grade 1 Mildred Vessels Handicap for fillies and mares last fall and was second in the Golden State Derby and Los Alamitos Super Derby in the second half of last year.

In the final division, My Lady First, a 4-year-old filly who was second in the Los Alamitos Winter Championship in February, is the likely favorite.

Jones is starting Masters Call, a 4-year-old by the Thoroughbred Hennessy who was purchased for $485,000 as a yearling in 2006 and is still searching for his first major stakes win.