Top local handicap horse Forest Mouse had his consistency rewarded with the most lucrative win of his career in the $218,120 Zia Park Distance Championship Dec. 2 at the Hobbs, N.M., track.
Trained by Henry Dominguez for owner Parnell Thomas, Forest Mouse defeated Red Lead by three-quarters of a length in the richest race for Thoroughbreds held by Zia Park. With Ry Eikleberry aboard, the 4-year-old son of Teton Forest completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in a solid 1:50.76 over a fast track.
Forest Mouse has six wins and five seconds in his past 12 starts. The dark bay or brown colt, out of the Fast Play mare Fast Mouse, was bred in Kentucky by E. H Beau Lane III.
Stalking pacesetter First Strike from the beginning from between horses, second choice Forest Mouse took the lead on the final turn and drifted out while coming into the stretch with Red Lead breathing down his neck on the outside. Forest Mouse opened a two-length advantage in the dash for home and held sway under urging from Eikleberry as Red Lead cut into the margin in the final strides.
"I didn't want Red Lead to get the jump on me," said the 23-year-old Eikleberry after the biggest win of his career. "When (Red Lead) came to put the pressure on me a little past the three-eighths pole, a little before the quarter pole, I gave mine a tap, and I knew I had a lot of horse underneath me. I just tried to hold it together and put a little separation at the quarter pole because I thought my horse was the best. It worked out real well."
Red Lead, ridden by Chris Landeros, finished four lengths in front of Hurricane Lake and Enrique Gomez. Red Lead also ran second in last year's Distance Championship, losing by a nose to longshot McKenna's Justice, who was last this year.
Quarter mile fractions were :24.33, :49.25, 1:13.41 and 1:37.67.
Southern California invader Thirtyfirststreet was sent off as the 5-2 favorite in the field of nine but gave way after stalking the pace into the far turn. He finished eighth.
Eikleberry rode Forest Mouse to a second-place finish in Zia's Veteran Stakes Nov. 3, a race won by Global Stage by a neck. Global Stage was scratched at the gate in the Distance Championship.
The young rider scored his 1,000th career victory Nov. 19. He was also victorious in the $180,480 New Mexico Cup Rocky Gulch Championship on Zia Park's New Mexico Cup Day Oct. 28, his biggest victory in terms of prize money prior to Sunday.
"These last three weeks have been unbelievable," Eikleberry said. "Winning the two biggest races of my career and being able to win my 1,000th on top of it, I think it's a special time that I'll never forget."
Forest Mouse banked $126,877 for the victory and improved his career mark to 11-8-2 in 27 starts with earnings of $413,629.
Carrying top weight of 122 pounds, Forest Mouse paid $8.20, $4.80, and $3.60. Red Lead, whose two-race win streak ended for trainer Chris Hartman, returned $4.40 and $4.40 while completing a $45 exacta. Hurricane Lake paid $7.60.
Stachys ran fourth, followed by Watch Me Go, Where's the Remote, First Strike, Thirtyfirststreet, and McKenna's Justice.