FARMINGTON — For the better part of 2014, Sam and Sammy Stevens' Ol Winedrinker Who has been reserved to playing the role of minor player to some of the top handicap horses in the state of New Mexico.
Sunday, in front of a crowd of over 1,600 fans who came out for closing day action at SunRay Park and Casino, Ol Winedrinker Who and jockey Carlos Madeira got a measure of revenge, posting a narrow upset win in a thrilling edition of the $75,000 San Juan County Commissioners Handicap.
Chasing a moderate early pace set by Isn't He Clever and jockey Enrique Gomez, the Texas-bred son of Sligo Bay found his best stride at the top of the lane, collared that one nearing the wire and finished a head in front of the Henry Dominguez trainee for his eighth win from 24 lifetime starts.
Ol Winedrinker Who came into the San Juan County Commissioners Handicap in the midst of a three-race losing streak, the last pair of races finishing well behind rivals Jaycito and Isn't He Clever. His last win coming in the Zia Park Distance Challenge at Zia Park in Hobbs.
Breaking from the outside post in the six-horse field, Madeira settled in nicely behind the speed, knowing he had something left in reserve.
"I saw they were going pretty quick up front," Madeira said. "When he got running on the turn, I thought we could outrun (Isn't He Clever). He's a good horse and he finished strong."
Sent off as the fourth choice on the board at odds of 9.50-1, Ol Winedrinker Who returned $21 to his backers on each $2 ticket. Ol Winedrinker Who ran the one and an eighth miles in 1:51.8.
Isn't He Clever, who won this race a year ago by nearly 17 lengths, appeared to have things in hand on the far turn after putting away a stubborn King Coral. The son of Smarty Jones opened up a three-length lead at the head of the lane, but got tagged in the shadow of the wire, finishing nearly nine lengths clear of the rest of the field.
King Coral saved third place, followed by post-time favorite Forest Mouse, Happy Toes and Jaycito.
Forest Mouse, bet down to the 11-10 favorite as the gates opened, came into the race with an unblemished record in four starts at SunRay Park and Casino. Ridden by Alfredo Juarez, Jr., the son of Teton Forest raced off the pace early and never threatened, beaten some 12 lengths by the winner.
Ol Winedrinker Who's victory was worth $45,000 to the connections, increasing his career bankroll to just over $401,000.
El Gato Azul scores NMHA Win
In other stakes action on Sunday, El Gato Azul took advantage of a perfect trip on his way to a mild upset win in the $45,000 New Mexico Horsemans Association Handicap under jockey Enrique Garcia.
Trained by Jesus Carrete, El Gato Azul moved up along the rail down the backstretch chasing a quick early pace. When Midnightlowdown faltered on the far turn and clipped heels, it appeared to cause a chain reaction of horses to float out on the bend, which opened up the inside for Garcia and El Gato Azul, sent off as the co-fourth choice on the board at odds of 5.30-1.
The son of Future Trick wore down Vicente Y Su Corona nearing the wire and posted a half-length victory, running the 870 yards in 46.33 seconds.
Bettors who supported El Gato Azul at the windows were rewarded with a $12.60 return on their $2 investment.
The win is El Gato Azul's first stakes victory and his seventh from 28 career starts. The $27,000 winners share of the purse increases his lifetime earnings to over $111,000.
Vicente Y Su Corona was well clear of the rest of the field when saving second, ahead of KC Royal Flush, Talkin Hills, Storm Chasor and Midnightlowdown.
Evans, Giles lead standings
Riding and training champions were announced Sunday for both thoroughbred and quarter horse divisions.
Justin Evans dominated the standings all season long at SunRay and won the thoroughbred trainer standings, easily defeating Henry Dominguez. Meantime, jockey Elvin Gonzalez, who rode many of Evans-trained winners this season, won the title of leading thoroughbred jockey over Alfredo Juarez, Jr.
On the quarter horse side, trainer Wes Giles took the season title, defeating Javier Roman, Jr., while Martin Bourdieu won his second riding title this year, having won the quarter horse riding title this past spring at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.