Until this June, Conquering Hero had run 29 races, all on grass. Then in his second start on dirt, at Los Alamitos in August, he won the $100,000 Orange County Handicap, and now he’s one of the horses to beat in Sunday’s $150,000 Pomona Invitational Handicap at Fairplex Park.
Sunday marks the close of the 18-day Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Fairplex.
Ten horses are entered in the 1 1/8-mile Pomona, and all of their chances improved when the trainers of the three high weights decided to pass on the race. Honor Medal, who would have carried 121 pounds, and Good Command, who was assigned 116, are running today in the $150,000 Budweiser Breeders’ Cup at Bay Meadows, and Nostalgia’s Star, given 119 pounds, will stay in the barn.
Here’s the lineup for the Pomona, in order of post position:
He’s a Saros, with Pat Valenzuela riding, 116 pounds; Narghile, Antonio Castanon, 114; Conquering Hero, Martin Pedroza, 116; Stylish Winner, Corey Black, 116; Northern Provider, Alan Patterson, 115; Exotic Eagle, Frank Olivares, 113; Leasee, Luis Ortega, 115; Redouble II, Aaron Gryder, 113; Khalil, Ray Sibille, 115, and Shafy, James Corral, 113.
Valenzuela also will ride today at Fairplex--he has the mount on Dr. Brant in the $100,000 Pomona Derby--and this marks the return of the troubled jockey to California for the first time since March, when he was suspended by Santa Anita stewards for not honoring riding assignments and declining to explain his absences.
Valenzuela, once one of the country’s leading riders, has had drug problems. After leaving California, he went to New Mexico and Chicago, where he became Hawthorne’s leading rider before a broken leg, suffered in a gate accident, sidelined him for about a month.
Conquering Hero, winner of this year’s San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita, had a record of 7 wins in 29 grass starts when his trainer, Darrell Vienna, ran him for the first time on dirt at Hollywood Park on June 29.