A victory in Saturday's Ed Burke Memorial Futurity aboard Ms Lady Casanova would complete jockey Jim Lewis' comeback.
Lewis recently returned from a five-week layoff because of a broken collarbone suffered in an early August spill. During his time off, he barely slipped in the quarter horse jockey standings, proof that the injury interrupted a fine season.
Lewis' left shoulder now includes a plate and four screws, but thanks to physical therapy, which began in mid-August, Lewis was able to ride again in less than six weeks.
It was a tough time to be out of the saddle. Several of the horses Lewis had ridden during the summer continued improving. Rapid Champ, with whom Lewis won in July, won the $65,000 Gold Rush Derby during Labor Day weekend, two weeks before Lewis returned.
"You lose a lot when you're out and you lose a lot of horses that were sitting on wins," he said. "They still win without you."
The Ed Burke Memorial Futurity carries a purse of $154,000, making the 350-yard race the richest for 2-year-olds in California so far this year. Ms Lady Casanova finished third, beaten a half a length by Follow The Sign and Le Ritz, in the Sept. 24 trials. They are the three fastest qualifiers for the Ed Burke. Le Ritz, who finished second in the Miss Kindergarten Futurity earlier this year, brings the most experience into the race, but most are making their first starts in stakes races.
Ms Lady Casanova has run four times. Her only victory was in a maiden race in June with Lewis in the saddle. She didn't start again until Sept. 11 and finished eighth after a rough start in an $8,000 claiming race. Her trial was a much improved performance, giving Lewis hope that she can improve even more.
"She's tied for the third-fastest time and I think she looks pretty good," he said.
In the five weeks Lewis was sidelined, the racing program at Los Alamitos changed considerably. Quarter horses, which made up almost an entire program in the late spring and early summer, are now averaging only half the program, the other half consisting of Arabians and thoroughbreds.
The changes have forced many jockeys to adjust, including Lewis, who has ridden quarter horses, Arabians, and earlier this year, Appaloosas. He has yet to win aboard a thoroughbred.
"Things have completely changed," he said. "I'm going to start riding a few (thoroughbreds and Arabians). It doesn't bother me to ride (other breeds)."
Friday's $67,000 California Derby could mark Four Forty Blast's final start against 3-year-olds.
After the California Derby, Four Forty Blast will be pointed for the $100,000-added Breeders Championship Classic on Nov. 13, where he is likely to face Refrigerator and Rare Form, two leading contenders for world champion.
Refrigerator, the 1992 world champion, recently won the Los Alamitos Championship, while Rare Form, the champion 3-year-old of 1992, won an allowance race at Los Alamitos in early September, but was third behind Reign Of Terror and Grand Package in the Pomona Quarter Horse Invitational at Fairplex Park on Saturday.
The Breeders Championship Classic, and the Champion of Champions on Dec. 11, will determine this year's world champion. With four stakes victories in 1993, all in Grade I races, Four Forty Blast is a heavy favorite for the 3-year-old title. The California Derby on Friday isn't a major race, but a victory there combined with success against older horses later this year would add to his chances for the world championship.
Four Forty Blast has won eight of nine starts this year. In late August and early September, he won a trial and final of the Governor's Cup Derby despite suffering from an eye disorder, which was later diagnosed as a puncture wound to the cornea and a secondary fungal infection.
The eye injury forced trainer Carlos Lopez to cover the eye with a goggle during races, which cost Four Forty Blast at the start. Instead of storming to an early lead, he broke with the field, sometimes behind it, and had to come from behind to win.
In the California Derby trials on Sept. 25, he raced without the goggle and led from start to finish, beating stakes winner Firstdown Touchdown by three-quarters of a length.
"It's exciting to see him win at that margin again," co-owner Denny Boer said. "I felt we would have to improve off his last few starts to beat the horses that are coming up (later this year). If we aim at the Breeders Classic and (Refrigerator and Rare Form) do, it won't be a piece of cake."
This Jet Is Royal has never had any trouble winning in his home state of Arizona. The gelding won the Kevin Burns and Prescott Futurities in 1992 and in August set a world record for 330 yards of 16.44 seconds in the Prescott Derby.
It was California that was proving to be a tough place to win. This Jet Is Royal started twice at Los Alamitos during the summer, finishing second in the Los Alamitos Derby trials and fifth in the derby final.
This Jet Is Royal returned to Arizona in late summer, won two races, including the Prescott Derby, before returning to Los Alamitos for Friday's Vandy's Flash Handicap, the weekend's only stakes race. He returned a different horse.
This Jet Is Royal, who is trained by Blane Schvaneveldt, won the Vandy's Flash Handicap by half a length without urging from jockey Roman Figueroa, who also rode the gelding in the Prescott Derby. The 400-yard time of 19.80 seconds wasn't a record, but was still worth $11,000 for owners Dale, Harvey and Jerry Allred of Mesa, Ariz.
"He was gone when the gates opened," Figueroa said. "There was nothing to it. I just kept him together."
The 330-yard distance is common at Prescott because the track's chute doesn't extend any further. This Jet Is Royal lowered the world mark by 1 1/100th of a second and didn't have the easiest of races, according to Figueroa.
"There's a rodeo grounds on the inside there and he ducked in," Figueroa said. 'He's been a nice horse since I rode him at 2."
Los Alamitos Notes
Beginning Saturday, and continuing through the conclusion of the meeting on Dec. 12, post times on Saturday and Sunday will shift to 6 p.m. First post on Thursday and Friday will remain 7 p.m.
Thursday's program will include the trials for the Daughters Of the Desert and Drinkers Of The Wind futurities, which are for 3-year-old Arabian fillies and 3-year-old Arabian colts and geldings. Among the entrants for the Daughters Of The Desert trials is Unchainedd Melody, a 3-year-old full-sister to Victorias Secrett, the recent winner of the Gladys Brown Edwards Memorial Cup at Los Alamitos.