Kip Didericksen's favorite daydream became reality in less than 22 seconds on Saturday night.
Riding what probably his final race, Didericksen, 26, rode Refrigerator to a three-quarter-length victory in the $250,000 Champion of Champions, the most prestigious race for older quarter horses.
Didericksen, who announced he was retiring Dec. 1 because of weight problems, had intended to ride through December, but doctors advised him to quit immediately. He gained 10 pounds but stayed fit by galloping horses each morning, and two weeks ago he began entertaining the idea of returning for one ride. When the weight began to come off, the decision was even easier. He decided to ride Refrigerator in the Champion of Champions, a race in which 13 of its first 20 winners were named World Champion by the American Quarter Horse Assn.
Didericksen won the race in 1990 aboard Dash For Speed, who was named World Champion, a title Refrigerator probably clinched when he stopped the clock in 21.37 seconds for the 440-yard race on Saturday.
"You can dream about it, but you don't think it's possible," said Didericksen, who has moved to his home state of Idaho. "I can't believe the storybook ending."
Refrigerator, who is owned by Jim Helzer of Arlington, Tex., and trained by Blane Schvaneveldt, will be mentioned in many of Didericksen's milestones. The 4-year-old gelding was his first winning mount in the All American Futurity in 1990. They also won the 1991 Kansas Derby and last summer accounted for the Los Alamitos Championship and Vessels Maturity.
Last fall, however, things did not go as well. Refrigerator flipped in the starting gate moments before the start of the Breeders Championship Classic at Hollywood Park on Oct. 3. Three weeks later, in the Go Man Go Handicap, he was beaten in the last jump by Shawnes Diamond.
At the same time, Rare Form, a 3-year-old colt, was winning impressively and had become the favorite for World Champion. As recently as the first of December, Rare Form was favored to win the award, but a leg injury suffered in the Champion of Champions trials forced him to the sidelines.
The two have never met on the track, and both lost only one race in 1992. Still, the 64 members of the AQHA Racing Committee, which selects champions, will have a hard time overlooking Refrigerator's four victories in five starts and a victory in the Champion of Champions.
"I think that's the strongest race he's run since last year's Champion of Champions trials," Helzer said. "He beat them from the get-go today."
Mega Dash can wrap up the champion 2-year-old gelding title with a strong race in the $179,728 Golden State Futurity on Saturday.
The Golden State is the richest West Coast futurity and has drawn the most impressive field. All four winners of the Dec. 5 trials--Four Forty Blast, Dashin Sandy, Mega Dash and Check Her Twice--ran virtually the same times, and each has won a major stake this year.
Four Forty Blast, a First Down Dash gelding, won the California Futurity in late October at Hollywood Park. He is a 2-year-old full brother of Holland Ease, the recent Golden State Derby winner. Four Forty Blast ran 400 yards in 19.88 seconds in the trials and is the fastest qualifier.
Dashin Sandy and Mega Dash were timed in 19.90 seconds, and Check Her Twice was clocked in 19.91. Dashin Sandy and Check Her Twice are among six fillies in the finals, and both have won six-figure races this year. Dashin Sandy won the Diamond Classics Futurity in Wyoming last September and has won five of seven starts. Check Her Twice, who cost $65,500 as a yearling, accounted for the California Sires Cup Futurity last month at Los Alamitos.
Mega Dash, who is owned by Paul Reed of Lake Matthews, has been the most consistent 2-year-old in California this year. Aside from winning the Kindergarten and Ed Burke futurities, he was second in the Dash For Cash and Breeders Juvenile Classic. He has earned almost $180,000 and is the most accomplished gelding this year.
"It'd be nice if he'd get that title," trainer Jesse Maldonado said. "I think the whole year has been tough, and this will be the toughest one. He was sick for the Kindergarten and Dash For Cash, and we had a heck of a time getting him well for the Ed Burke. Now I have a healthy horse."
Wing It upset Griswold in Friday's $20,925 Bull Rastus Handicap, but the two might not meet again soon.
A one-year experiment that allowed Appaloosas and quarter horses to compete in 870-yard races expires at the end of the year, two weeks before the $75,000 Marathon Invitational, the richest 870-yard race of the meeting.
Wing It was the only Appaloosa in the eight-horse field and ran 870 yards as well as any quarter horse has this year. Despite breaking last, he made up 2 1/2 lengths on Griswold in the final furlong and won by a length in 45.01 seconds.
Trainer Bob Gilbert, who trains Wing It for Bill Jones, is hoping that an extension can be granted to allow Wing It in the race. Otherwise, the Appaloosa, who has won three of six starts in 870-yard races this year, will have to find another place to run.
"We'll find out something this week," he said. "It'd be a shame to run all year and not run in the big one."
For finishing second, Griswold is the probable choice for champion distance horse. The 6-year-old gelding won three 870-yard stakes in California this year, and with the second-place in the Bull Rastus, has earned $502,641 in his 47-race career.
The California Harness Racing Assn. received California Horse Racing Board approval on Friday to conduct a harness meeting at Los Alamitos from Jan. 20 through April 24.
The CHRA, headed by horse owners Perry De Luna and Paul Reddam, will lease the facility for a spring meeting and will conduct a meeting in Sacramento this summer, although the CHRB didn't grant approval for the remainder of the 1993 quarter horse and harness calendar.
The board is expected to consider the night racing dates at the Dates Allocation Committee's meeting on Jan. 12.
The new schedule will have Los Alamitos weighted heavily toward quarter horse racing, with a seven-month meeting beginning in May and continuing until mid-December.
One harness official told the CHRB he feared that only 20 weeks of racing in 1993 would do immeasurable harm to the California harness industry. "It will essentially castrate the breeding industry in California," said Alan Horowitz, the executive secretary of the California Harness Horsemen's Assn. "There will be no need to breed horses in California. It's not the kind of signal we need to send."
Los Alamitos Notes
Jockey Eddie Aceves of Pasadena won his first race Friday aboard Cinquo De Mayo in the second race. The 16-year-old rider has one victory and two thirds at this meeting. Earlier this month, he was suspended for four days for a disqualification and Sunday was disqualified from fourth to last on Lucks Bay Lightning in the fifth race. . . . There is no racing on Thursday or Friday. . . . Saturday's handle of $1,508,536 was the highest at Los Alamitos this year. . . . Trainer Brian Koriner and jockey Jerry Yoakum combined for three victories Sunday after teaming for two Friday.