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Challenge Championships coming Saturday to the Downs

It is billed as a 10-race card that brings the top racing Quarter Horses from throughout the world into town on Saturday, when Albuquerque Downs hosts the American Quarter Horse Association Bank of America Challenge Championships.

Post positions for the five Challenge Championship races were drawn Wednesday at the First Turn Lounge at Albuquerque Downs. There are five undercard stakes races, the first beginning at 6:05 p.m. The final race of the night, the 440-yard, $250,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship, is set to go off at 9:50 p.m.

Winner of Saturday’s last race advances to the Dec. 14 $600,000 Champion of Champions event at Los Alamitos Racecourse near Los Angeles. That is billed as “Quarter Horse racing’s richest and most prestigious race for older horses.”

The Challenge program was conceived by the AQHA in the early 1990s to give top-flight Quarter Horses additional racing opportunities. Regional races held around the world, including South America and Canada, during the year give horses qualifying berths to the Challenge Championships for one single night of racing.

This will be the first time Albuquerque Downs will host the Challenge Championships. The lone other time they came to New Mexico was 1993 at Sunland Park.

“I am very pleased with the enthusiasm for this year’s running of the Challenge Championships, as well as the other activities that surround the event,” said AQHA chief racing officer Janet VanBebber in a statement. “… Our friends in Albuquerque are committed to making this a great event,” she added. “It will be a fantastic night of racing.”

The five Challenge races, in their order of running:

• Distance Challenge Championship (purse, $104,500): Let There Be Sound brings a three-race win streak into this race for 3-year-olds and older, the sport’s only Grade 1 stakes at the 870-yard distance.

• Juvenile Challenge Championship: ($130,625): David L. Wisdom’s Divas First Moon, a homebred gray daughter of champion First Moonflash trained by Bob Johnson, drew the rail post for this 350-yard race in her New Mexico debut.

• Derby Challenge Championship ($154,750):Valiant Tiberas, a Valiant Hero gelding owned by Sergio Holguin, Cliften Nielsen, and Felix Rodriguez, heads a field of 10 3-year-olds entered in this 400-yard race.

• Distaff Challenge Championship ($106,500): One of only three Grade 1 stakes in the sport restricted to fillies and mares, this race has drawn a full field of 10, topped by likely favorite Curls Happy Wagon.

• Challenge Championship ($266,250): Ruben Garcia Montemayor’s Eye N Capo has earned $76,013 from four races in four states this season, and he prepped for this 440-yard start with a three-quarter length victory in a 250-yard open-condition allowance dash at Retama Park near San Antonio on Sept. 6.

NOTES: Earlier in the week, Van Bebber announced that the 2020 Challenge Championships likewise will be will be held at The Downs, on Oct. 24. This will mark the first time in the program’s 27-year history that the same track has hosted the Challenge Championships in back-to-back years.

• Friday’s concert at Tingley Coliseum featuring Little Texas and special guest Rick Trevino, is associated with the event.

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