Martha Wells’ homebred Tell Cartel won the richest running in the 67-year history of the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby on Sunday night with as good of an effort as the colt by Favorite Cartel has posted in 2020 on the way to becoming a three-time derby winner and now a major contender in this year’s Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions.
Ridden for the first time by Eduardo Nicasio and saddled by Matt Fales, Tell Cartel bumped at the start of the record-setting $1,052,350 Super Derby but he was only a head behind Bobby Simmons’ Mental Error during the early stages of the 400-yard dash. From there, Tell Cartel put together his usual late run, moving ahead of the game Mental Error at the midway point and then holding off not only that outstanding, but also Wootan Racing’s late charging Oatman Creek Senator to win the Super Derby. Aided by a 20 mile per hour tail wind, Tell Cartel covered the distance in a flying :19.324 to finish with the third fastest time in Super Derby history.
Tell Cartel, who earned $428,547 for his Super Derby, added this victory to his wins in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby and the Grade 3 El Primero Del Año Derby. Now a winner in eight of 18 starts, Tell Cartel raised his career earnings to $700,376. The fastest qualifier for this race and the second choice in the wagering at 5-2 odds, this chestnut colt earned with this win a provisional berth to the Champion of Champions on December 12. The final berths to the Champion of Champions will be decided in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on November 15.
For Wells, Tell Cartel looks to be her third runner in the Champion of Champions. She previously participated in the race with Chicks First Policy in 2000 and Yanque in 2018.
“This is unbelievable,” Wells said. “I’m so proud of him. This horse is so cool. He needed some time off after the El Primero. It took him a few races to find himself again. I’m excited about the stud prospect because he is so nice. He has such a nice mind. I’ll send him to Fales Farm in Arizona. The Fales have done so much for me. They love him like I love him. That’s where he’ll go, but I guess right now he’ll go to the Champion of Champions. We’ll see how he pulls up.”
Wells talked about having Nicasio ride Tell Cartel after Ruben Lozano, who had piloted him to both of his earlier derby wins, decided to ride the Valentin Zamudio-trained John Carter Cash in the Super Derby final.
“I love Ruben to death,” Wells said. “He called me up apologizing, but I understood because he has that good 2-year-old (Governor’s Cup Futurity winner Constituent) to ride for Zamudio. Matt had talked to Nicasio. This reminded me of Seabiscuit story and when George Woolf got to ride Seabiscuit. To me Nicasio is George Woolf. This horse, Tell Cartel, runs just like Powerful Favorite. Eduardo waved to us before the race. We felt good and then everything fell into place.”
Nicasio, who is now a three-time Super Derby winner, is also a three-time Champion of Champions winning rider. He knew early on after the Super Derby trials that he was in a great spot for this race with Tell Cartel.
“I didn’t have a qualifier in the race, so I was waiting for Matt (Fales) to call me with Ruben Lozano’s decision,” Nicasio said. “Matt called me and said, ‘You’re on the horse’. I was thrilled. He didn’t break great in this race but finished the race perfectly. He’s a top horse. He’s won a lot of big races. I took him out on the track a couple of times, and he felt great. I told Matt that if the horse ran like he felt that we would win the race. I’m thankful that Martha gave this opportunity. Mental Error had us early on. That horse ran a great race, but my horse was coming strong with each stride and I knew that we were going to catch the leader.”
Fales saddled Yanque in the Champion of Champions and will now have another shot at racing’s most prestigious prize for horses 3-year-olds and up. Fales may have wondered if Tell Cartel in the Champion of Champions would happen after his trainee lost three races in a row after his time off.
“On (Super Derby) trial night, my expectations were not crazy,” Fales said. “He thrived on that. We treated him just like a horse. It’s amazing that two, three months ago we were all hanging our heads. We were pretty low. I guess that’s the beauty of horse racing. I was trying to have this horse have a perfect record. Then when those bad races happened, he just taught me so much. I was depressed. We had a monster year (early on) and I ruined him. Horses are amazing. Now, here we are. This is the greatest experience of my life as a trainer.”
Along the way, Fales figured out what might help turn around Tell Cartel back to his winter form.
“I galloped him less frequently,” he said. “Coming off a layoff I wanted to make sure he was fit for 400 yards. I just overtrained him a little bit. After that third race, even thought they were bad races, he was fit. I just had to get his mind right. The fitness was there. I didn’t make this horse. He is (who he is) on his own. We had a little bit of turmoil with the jockey situation. That caught us a little bit by surprise, but the good thing is that we had ‘LeBron James’ coming off the bench. This is Eduardo’s third derby win. This is my first win. He coached me along the way. He had two gallops with standing him in the gate – gate schooling – and then one jog a few days ago. We backtracked and jogged him and he saw how good the horse was feeling. That’s when we got excited. Horses are amazing. Now, here we are. This is the greatest experience of my life as a trainer.
“All my favorite horses in history won the Champion of Champions as 3-year-olds,” Fales continued. “To do that would just be incredible. I think (the extra 40 yards) will be an advantage for him. I feel like he was accelerating at the end of this race instead of getting caught. If he can catch one more gear, it’s there for us.”
As for Tell Cartel’s gears, his winning time is among the three fastest ever in this race. The only other faster clockings than Tell Cartel in this race were also posted by colts. Apollitical Jess, the 2010 AQHA World Champion, is the stakes record holder when he won the 2010 running of this race in a time of :19.13. That race also featured the previous record purse in the Super Derby of $1,052,000 and it was Nicasio who was the winning rider aboard Apollitical Jess on that night. Johnny Trotter and Burnett Ranches’ One Famous Eagle is the owner of the second fastest Super Derby win when the son of Mr Jess Perry won the 2008 running in a time of :19.321.
Ridden by Jairo Rangel for trainer Paul Jones, Mental Error, a colt also sired by Favorite Cartel, earned $173,460 for his effort. Bred by Dr. Steve Burns, Mental Error finished second in the Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity last year and was third to Tell Cartel in this year’s Winter Derby. Terry Wootan’s Oatman Creek Senator, the winner of the All American Invitational at Ruidoso Downs earlier this year, earned $122,442 for running third. The top three finishers were followed by Cattail Cove, Really First Down, Mr Ricks, Kiss Thru Fire, One Sweet Change, John Carter Cash and Pay Me In Front.
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