11/23/2005 1:00AM

Vals Fortune steps up to a Grade 1

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Ty Wyant
Mighty Invictus became a Grade 1 winner last month by taking the Dash for Cash Derby.

Vals Fortune, who has thoroughly dominated Louisiana-bred competition, will make his long-awaited debut against open Grade 1 company in the $100,000 Refrigerator Handicap on Friday night at Lone Star Park.

The winner of the Refrigerator Handicap will receive the final invitation to the Grade 1, $500,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos on Dec. 10.

Vals Fortune has made 20 of his 21 career starts against Louisiana-breds, and has 8 wins and 2 second-place finishes against statebreds. In his sole start against open company, he was a neck winner of the MBNA America East Challenge Championship on May 23. The win in the East Challenge Championship gave Vals Fortune a berth in the MBNA America Challenge Championship, but he did not ship to Los Alamitos to race in that Grade 1 stakes.

Racing against Louisiana-breds has been lucrative for the 4-year-old Vals Fortune, who has earned $1,049,841.

Push the Pace, who is tested against open Grade 1 company, will be making his second start after a layoff. He came back from a five-month layoff to win an allowance race on Oct. 21. This spring, he won the Grade 2 West Texas Maturity and last year won the Grade 1 MBNA America New Mexico Challenge Championship and was second in the Grade 1 The Championship at Sunland Park.

Brooks going for double

Hall of fame trainer Jacks Brooks has live horses for a possible sweep of the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Texas Classic Futurity and the Grade 1, $332,869 Texas Classic Derby this weekend at Lone Star Park.

Brooks will start the weekend with the Dash for Cash Derby winner Mighty Invictus in the Texas Classic Derby on Friday and then saddle fastest-qualifier PYC Paint Your Wagon in the Texas Classic Futurity on Saturday night.

Mighty Invictus, who had qualified for six Grade 1 races before the Dash for Cash Derby, found the Grade 1 winner's circle in the Dash for Cash Derby on Oct. 21 when he used a strong finish to defeat First Comment and Winners Award, who also return in the Texas Classic Derby.

In his Texas Classic Derby trial, Mighty Invictus faced Si Puede, winner of seven straight races, including the Grade 2 Sam Houston Derby. Si Puede extended her streak to eight with the three-quarter-length victory, while Mighty Invictus finished second.

PYC Paint Your Wagon won the Grade 2 Lazy E Futurity in April and was second to the then-undefeated Leading Spirit in the Grade 1 Rainbow Futurity in July. He returned from a three-month rest for the Texas Classic Futurity trials and responded with a 1 1/4-length win in 19.804 seconds for 400 yards, the quickest time from 13 trials.

The third-fastest qualifier, Automatically, brings an undefeated record from three starts into the Texas Classic Futurity. He was the 11th-fastest qualifier to the All American Futurity, just missing a spot in the finals, and then won his Texas Classic trial by 1 1/4 lengths.

Brindis Por Cayenne, third in the All American Futurity, qualified for the Texas Classic with a 1 3/4-length trial win, his second win in his last three starts.

Higher Fire draws closer to $1 million

Higher Fire, a two-time Grade 1 futurity winner, will attempt to qualify for the Grade 1, $1.5 million (estimated) Los Alamitos Million Futurity and race for the $1 million Los Alamitos Cash Bonanza in the fifth of 10 Los Alamitos Million trials on Friday night.

The Los Alamitos Cash Bonanza is paid to the connections of any horse who can win the Ed Burke Million, Golden State Million, and the Los Alamitos Million. The bonus has never been won.

Higher Fire, a strapping physical specimen, won the Ed Burke Million for her first stakes win on June 25 and was then rested for four months to prepare for the Golden State Million. After finishing third in her trial to Teller Cartel, the All American Futurity winner, she won the finals by a neck over Wave Carver on Nov. 4, with Teller Cartel finishing third.

Starting from post 9 Friday, Higher Fire will see familiar rival, Teller Cartel, who drew post 8 in the same trial. Teller Cartel broke his maiden when he won the All American Futurity's $1 million first-place check on Labor Day.

Finding Nemo, in the first trial on Friday, was third behind Higher Fire in the Ed Burke Million and has since won four straight races, including Grade 1 wins in the Governor's Cup Futurity and the PCQHRA Breeders Futurity.