05/31/2007 12:00AM

Volcom makes return in Vessels trials


Volcom makes his first start since winning the Feb. 24 Los Alamitos Winter Championship on Saturday in the trials to the Grade 1, $147,200 Vessels Maturity at Los Alamitos.

Volcom has been a leading member of his division since he was a juvenile and is in peak form as a 4-year-old. In the Los Alamitos Winter Championship, he got up in the final jumps to gain his second Grade 1 victory by a head. Last year, he won the Grade 1 El Primero Del Ano and was second in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby to eventual world champion Wave Carver.

Spike It and Fly and Dutch Shultz, the second- and third-place finishers in the Winter Championship, also are entered in the Maturity trials.

The 9-year-old mare Five Bar Molly returns after winning the Miss Princess Handicap on April 20.

Willis takes 2 shots at Heritage Place

Perennial leading Oklahoma trainer Eddie Willis has never won the Heritage Place Futurity and he may be looking for a monkey on his back if he's unsuccessful in the Grade 1, $649,400 finals Sunday night at Remington Park.

Willis saddles fastest-qualifier Southern Takes All and the undefeated Passion Raging On in Oklahoma's richest race.

Southern Takes All has the speed and class, coming into the 350-yard stakes with the fastest qualifying time and the only stakes experience of the 10 finalists. Two starts ago, he broke in at the start of the Grade 1 Remington Park Futurity, but gamely battled to a fourth-place finish at 37-1 odds. He came right back in his Heritage Place Futurity trial to roll to a 1 1/4-length win as the even-money favorite. His time of 17.566 seconds was the quickest from two days of trials.

Passion Raging On is one of three finalists with 2-for-2 records. He was an easy length winner of a maiden race and returned to win his Heritage Place Futurity trial by a half-length.

Valiant Hero heads strong derby

Valiant Hero faces his toughest test when he brings fastest-qualifier status into the Grade 1, $189,845 Heritage Place Derby on Sunday at Remington Park.

A sale-topping $500,000 purchase at the 2005 Ruidoso select yearling sale, Valiant Hero won last year's Grade 1, $1 million Texas Classic Futurity and has earned $492,330. He returned from a five-month layoff to set the fastest qualifying time to the Heritage Place Derby of 19.670 seconds for 400 yards.

"He may have been a little rusty in his trial, but he came out in good shape and should improve," said trainer Mike Joiner, who took over the training chores from retired Jack Brooks in March.

The son of all-time leading sire First Down Dash and broodmare of the year Corona Chick, Valiant Hero faces Grade 1 winner Dont Let Down, Grade 1 winner First Carolina, and the undefeated Eyesaspecial Fashion.

Dont Let Down was a 2006 championship contender after winning the Grade 1 Dash for Cash Futurity. He also was third in the Grade 1, $2 million All American Futurity, and a close third behind First Carolina in the Grade 1 Heritage Place Futurity.

First Carolina won her first four Remington Park starts, including the Heritage Place Futurity and the Grade 2 Remington Park Derby. She sustained her first local defeat when she was a close third in her Heritage Place Derby trial at 1-20 odds.

Eyesaspecial Fashion raised his record to 4 for 4 with his Heritage Place Derby trial win. It was his first start since winning his All American Futurity trial on Aug. 17.

Mullins puts two in Championship

Owner-trainer Sparky Mullins sends out two homebred brothers, Country Chicks Man and SM Country Cowboy, in the Grade 1, $150,000 Remington Park Championship on Sunday night at Remington Park.

The Remington Park Championship winner earns an invitation to the Grade 1, $1 million Champion of Champions on Dec. 8 at Los Alamitos.

Country Chicks Man, third in the 2006 Champion of Champions, comes off a win in the Sooner State Stakes, a race he has won for three consecutive years. The defending champion aged stallion, Country Chicks Man won 4 stakes from 6 starts last year.

SM Country Cowboy became a Grade 1 winner in his most recent start with a half-length victory in the Bank of America Oklahoma Challenge as the odds-on favorite. He also has a third in the $102,000 Leo Stakes from three starts since returning from a winter layoff.