Jockey Cruz Mendez grabbed a pair of Grade 1 stakes wins in the span of two days last month at Los Alamitos Race Course and in doing so was named the AQHA/JockeyTalk360.com Jockey of the Month for the month of December. The award is voted on by a panel of Quarter Horse racing experts for riding accomplishments and achievements for the previous month of racing.
On Saturday, December 12, Cruz was aboard one of his favorite mounts, Heza Dasha Fire, when he took top honors in the $600,000 Champion of Champions (G1) for 3 year-olds and up going 440 yards. Facing older horses for the first time, the 3-year-old gelding got the job done in fine fashion.
“He warmed up pretty good,” Mendez said. “When we were going into the starting gate, he felt great. We had a pretty good start out of the gate. I could see the other horses about 50 yards into the race, but at about 100 yards into the race we were on the lead and I thought to myself, ‘We’re going good. He was going strong, but he finished even stronger.”
Heza Dasha Fire won for the 11th time in 12 starts, with the only blemish on his record being a fourth-place finish in last year’s Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1). It wouldn’t take Mendez long to make up for that loss a season ago.
The next night at Los Alamitos, Cruz sat aboard Ima Fearless Hero, who would cap off a dream weekend for Don and Kathy Meneely’s S-Quarter K LLC, as the homebred gelding got up in time to win Sunday’s 400-yard Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (G1).
Saddled by trainer Jose Flores, Ima Fearless Hero won by a neck from Docs Best Card. The $801,434 winner’s share of the $1,908,175 purse, the richest for any breed in California, increased the son of Valiant Hero’s bankroll to $982,699.
It was an unforgettable weekend for Mendez, Flores and S-Quarter K, as they won the two big stakes with the half-brothers.
Mendez is based in Cypress, California. His brother, Santiago, is also a jockey.
This is the second AQHA/Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Month victory for Mendez, who won the award in August 2015. For the month Cruz led all riders in earnings with $1,127,918. He had three winners from his 15 mounts with two second placings and four third-place finishes.
The voters are:
Steve Andersen (Daily Racing Form)
Andrea Caudill (Q-Racing Journal Editor)
Martha Claussen (AQHA Wrangler Aces Coordinator)
Chris Kotulak (Remington Park Handicapper/Analyst)
Don Stevens (Delta Downs Announcer)
Doug McPherson (Ajax Downs & Kawartha Downs Handicapper/Chart Caller)