Dan Valdez remembers being introduced to his race horse, Chips All In.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
O At San Anita (Arcadia, Calif.)
When » Friday and Saturday
TV » NBC, NBCS
What » 14 races, $25 million in purses
Utah connection » Chips All In, owned by five Salt Lake City residents, runs in the $1 million Turf Sprint on Saturday.
"When we saw him initially," Valdez recalled this week, "he was just a little guy. He’s filled out now. But at first, I was like, ‘He’s a little runt.’"
Valdez, a Salt Lake City resident, bought Chips All In on the advice of long-time friend John Brocklebank.
A world-renowned thoroughbred talent scout, Brocklebank is a former scholarship football player at University of Utah.
"John pointed him out and said, ‘This is one you should get. He’s a runner. He’s fast,’" Valdez said. "I looked at John and said, ‘Really? You think he’s fast?’"
Yes, Chips All In is fast.
The four-year-old colt has won seven times in a 16-race career and earned $410,000. His next outing comes Saturday, when he runs in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.
Now owned by Valdez and four partners from Salt Lake — John O’Brien, Michelle Turpin, Jean Everest and Julie Crandall — Chips All In is one of the favorites in the Turf Sprint.
Trained by Utah native Jeff Mullins, Chips All In will break from the No. 3 post in the 14-horse field and be ridden by jockey Julien Leparoux.
The journey to the Breeders’ Cup has been "a great ride" for Valdez who, at first, could not find partners willing to invest in his diminutive horse.
After Chips All In won the $100,000 Gold Rush Futurity at Arapahoe Park near Denver in 2011, however, the horse became a hot property.
"The way he ran in Denver," Valdez said, "was a big shot in the arm."
When Chips All In returned to California, he was sent to Mullins. He was trained early in his career by Adam Kitchingman.
"Adam didn’t do anything wrong," Valdez said. "I’m just a big Jeff Mullins fan."
In his next race, Chips All In ran on grass for the first time and won the $75,000 Eddie Logan Stakes. Valdez and the other owners started dreaming of the Kentucky Derby, but that ended when their horse ran sixth on the dirt in the Robert Lewis Stakes.
The winner, I’ll Have Another, eventually captured the 2012 Derby.
"We thought we had a chance against a good bunch of horses," Valdez said. "But he didn’t break well, got carried wide through the first turn and our jockey wrapped up on him to prevent injury."
After the Robert Lewis, Chips All In returned to turf racing, where he has developed into one of the best horses in the country.
"We haven’t over-run him this year," Valdez said. "Jeff has done a great job that way."
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