Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino
Sunday, December 29, 2019
by Eric Alwan
Valiant Tiberias rallies for dramatic score in $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park (Gr. 1)
Adding another title to an already spectacular year of racing, Valiant Tiberias rallied down the center of the course to take top honors in Sunday’s 19th running of the Grade 1, $350,000 Championship at Sunland Park.
Ridden to victory by James Flores, Valiant Tiberias broke smartly from his outside post and rolled on the outside, just getting a head in front of runnerup Danjer in the final yards before prevailing by a long neck.
Owned by Sergio Holguin, Cliften Neilsen and Felix Rodriguez, Valiant Tiberias tacks on another stakes race to what has been a tremendous campaign. The Oklahoma-bred son of Valiant Hero also won the Ruidoso Derby Challenge this past summer before winning the Grade 3 Adequan Derby Challenge in October at the Downs at Albuequerque.
Valiant Tiberias ran the classic distance of 440 yards in a fast final time of 20.90 seconds and returned $7 to his winning backers as the 5-to-2 second choice on the toteboard.
Apollitical Pence got the lead shortly after the start and was more than a length clear midway down the straightaway. He was quickly joined by Danjer, ridden by Cody Jensen along with longshot Hes Limitless as well as the eventual winner.
Flores got the most out of Valiant Tiberias in the final yards as he surged clear in the shadow of the wire, the sixth in his 12-race career which pads his lifetime earnings to more than $395,600. The winner’s share was $157,000.
Danjer completed the exacta, which returned $37.20 for each $2 bet. Hes Limitless was just ahead of Apollitical Fence for third place.
Ryansmanonthemoon, sent off as the 7-to-5 post time favorite, lost all chance at the start when he was away slowly, finishing sixth in the field of 10.
For Jensen, the second place finish aboard Danjer also marked the final ride of his career. Jensen announced his retirement earlier this month and will walk away from the sport with more than 1600 quarter horse wins, more than 50 Grade 1 wins including two All American Futurities (2005 aboard Teller Cartel and 2006 aboard No Secrets Here) and last year’s Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos aboard Bodacious Eagle.
Live racing at Sunland Park resumes Tuesday with an all-thoroughbred card that begins at 12:25 p.m. Racing highlights next weekend include Friday’s trials for the Shue Fly Futurity, followed by a pair of stakes races on Saturday, including the Jess Burner Memorial Handicap for New Mexico-bred older quarter horses racing 400 yards for a purse of $100,000 and the $65,000 Bold Ego Handicap, for older filly and mare thoroughbreds racing 5 ½ furlongs.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography