Reliance Ranches’ Feature Hero, a 24-1 longshot, scored the biggest win in quarter horse racing history and denied the bid of Wicked Courage to sweep the three Grade 1 derbies at Ruidoso Downs by taking the Grade 1, $2,809,784 All American Derby on Sunday afternoon.
The All American Derby offered the all-time largest purse in quarter horse racing history and the highest purse of any three-year-old race in North America. It was held before 21,857 fans, the largest crowd ever at Ruidoso Downs on a non-All American Futurity Day. It broke the record of 20,952 set last year.
A total of $1,295,203 was wagered on the 12-race card with $407,137 bet on the All American Derby.
Tomorrow, on Labor Day at Ruidoso Downs, the Grade 1, $2.6 million All American Futurity has the second-highest purse in quarter horse racing history and sports the largest purse of any two-year-old race in North America.
Wicked Courage, the 6-5 favorite, finished seventh without any apparent excuse after winning the Grade 1, $823,000 Ruidoso Derby and the Grade 1, $1,055,000 Rainbow Derby. He would have been the fourth horse to sweep the three derbies if he would have won the All American Derby.
“He just never fired,” said jockey Cody Jensen. “He didn’t know how to race between horses because he had never had to do it before.” Wicked Courage won nine-straight races before he was second in his All American Derby trial to Bon Accord with the second-fastest qualifying time of :21.164.
Feature Hero was the tenth and final qualifier to the All American Derby, however he was fastest when it counted with a perfect trip in the All American Derby. The Valiant Hero gelding ran the perfect quarter horse race. He broke cleanly from the seventh post position while Wonderboy in the eight hole went out and Tayte Me Down in the sixth post position moved inward at the start. That left Feature Hero with nothing but a clear racetrack ahead of him.
“He left there on the lead,” said winning rider Jimmy Dean Brooks. “I reached and got after him right-handed a few times and then switched (to his left hand) on him.
“I thought they might be catching me, but they kind of ran up on me so I got him a few more times left-handed and he just kinda exploded away from them. Right down here on the end of it, they were coming at me — but not very fast.”
Giving trainer Eddie Willis his first Grade 1 win at Ruidoso Downs, Feature Hero was able to hold fastest-qualifier Bon Accord safe by one quarter of a length. Point Break Dash was another three quarters of a length back in third.
“It’s a damn good day,” said trainer Eddie Willis.
Feature Hero was timed in :21.56 for the 440 yards under jockey Jimmy Brooks. Brooks father, Roy, was second in last year’s Rainbow Derby as a 71-year-old jockey and was inducted into the Ruidoso Downs Racehorse Hall of Fame in June.
“This is great,” said Roy Brooks. “I actually told Jimmy Dean this morning, ‘You could win this thing.’ Wicked Courage was the only horse that I was worried about.”
It was the first win for Feature Hero since he won his Remington Park Okalahoma-bred Derby trial back in April at Remington Park. He came back to finish second in the $720,000 finals. The $40,000 purchase at the Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale was second by a neck behind Louisana Corona in their All American Derby trial.
Feature Hero earned $1,180,109 for the win and an invitation to the Grade 1, $750,000 Champion Of Champions at Los Alamitos in December.
Runner-up Bon Accord has been on a roll for owners J. Garvan Kelly, Nancy Yearsley and Vinewood Farms. The Shazoom gelding trained by Juan Aleman found his form in his All American Derby trial when he won by one-and-one-quarter length with the fastest-qualifying time of :20.977. Rodrigo Aceves was up for the trial win and in the All American Derby.
Jon and Donna McPherson’s Point Break Dash, a $100,000 Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale purchase, has been in productive form for trainer Paul Jones this summer. The First Down Dash son won his trials to the All American and Rainbow derbies and raced to a fourth-place finish in the Rainbow Derby.
Cody Jensen was up on Point Break Dash in his All American Derby trial and then chose to ride Wicked Courage in the derby. Ramon Sanchez picked up the mount in the All American Derby.
“We believed in (Feature Hero) and are so proud of him,” said Reliance Ranch owners Gary and Micah McKinney. “We weren’t concerned that he was the tenth-fastest qualifier. This is the thrill of a lifetime.”
The McKinneys founded Racing Free, a new program that rewards owners of racehorses who win races and are drug free. It is a national effort to promote drug-free racing. Larry McKinney said Feature Hero and nine of the 10 horses in Monday’s All American Futurity are enrolled in the Racing Free program.