LARC NEWS Posted: 6/12/2022 3:36:25 AM


      Jeff Jones and Steve Holt’s AQHA champion Empressum was sensational in his Los Alamitos debut, as the Oklahoma-bred gelding Jess posted the fastest qualifying time to the Grade 1, $156,300 Vessels Maturity thanks to a memorable performance here on Saturday night.


     Ridden by Rodrigo Sigala Vallejo for trainer Heath Taylor, Empressum won the third of three trials by 2 ¼ lengths while covering the 400 yards in a meet’s best clocking of :19.440. What will be remembered the most about this performance was Empressum’s amazing final 220-yard time of :09.23. This is believed to be the fastest final 220 time in a 400-yard race at Los Alamitos since Chivalry SR came come :09.21 when he set the track record at this distance of :19.067 on July 30, 2011. Empressum’s sire, AQHA World Champion Apollitical Jess, is the owner of the fastest come home time at this distance of :09.16 when he won the Los Alamitos Super Derby in 2010.

     The win was Empressum’s 14th in 19 career starts. His earnings of $5,500 for winning this $10,000 trial race took his career bankroll to $1,104,129. He has now won 10 out of his last 12 starts, a tremendous of success that includes wins in the Remington Park Oklahoma Derby, Grade 1 Ruidoso Derby, Grade 1 Rainbow Derby and Grade 1 Texas Classic Derby. For his triple of derby wins, the 4-year-old sorrel superstar was named the AQHA champion 3-year-old gelding in 2021. This was his first outing since running second to Instygator in The Championship at Sunland Park on January 2.

    “He was perfect,” Sigala Vallejo said. “I was just guiding down the lane. I wanted him to maintain a straight path. He did the rest. He’s a professional.”

     “He ran a beautiful race,” Taylor said. “We really made a commitment to want to come to Los Al this year. The owner lives 10 minutes from Remington Park and he skipped the $250,000 (Debbie Schauf) Remington Park Championship to commit to coming here and run all year. You never know how they’ll do, it’s different rules, different racetrack. I only clipped about 220 yards as easy as you can possible breeze one. I didn’t know how he would take to the racetrack. We have a good team. They’ve done a really good job with the horse. At the end of the year, he’s a special horse. He’s a nice horse.

     “It was a phenomenal horse that beat (Empressum) at Sunland Park. (Instygator) actually won the All American Derby, but at the end of the day that was our horse’s 11th 400 or 440 since (April 1, 2021). That’s  a lot of Grade 1 races in three states and a lot of traveling. Take nothing away from the winner, they ran a grazy Equibase speed figure that day. Luckily, we came out of the race perfectly clean, perfectly fine. You can tell that he was ready for a rest. We gave him a lot of time off at my farm in Louisiana, then brought him back to Remington Park and trained him lightly before bringing him out here.

     “I want to thank (Los Alamitos track owner) Dr. Ed Allred for this opportunity to race here. As things change throughout horse racing, you realize that it is a privilege to race somewhere and not a right. We had a few bumps but I owe him a thanks publicly.”     

     A total of 19 horses competed in the Vessels trials with the horses with the 10 fastest times returning here for the final on Sunday, July 3. In addition to Empressum, the list of qualifiers also featured Circle City, the winner of last year’s Vessels Maturity, and Valiantt, who posted a hard-fought victory in the second trial of the night. Here’s the complete list of qualifiers to the Vessels Maturity: Empressum (:19.440), Circle City (:19.646), Valiantt (:19.734), La Estrella Corona (:19.753), Monopolist (:19.791), Up And Atem (:19.803), Mister Tornado (:19.814), You Can Run (:19.824), Bail Czech (:19.876), and Just A Dasha Hero (:19.996).

     Allred’s Circle City was impressive as well in winning the opening trial of the night, as he posted a length victory over 2021 Go Man Go Handicap winner You Can Run. Ridden by Jesus Rios Ayala for trainer Scott Willoughby, Circle City left the gate sharply, took the lead early and never looked back in route to scoring his 10th win in 26 starts. He’s earned $491,267. The gelding by Favorite Cartel will look to become the first to win back-to-back runnings of the Vessels Maturity since Far Niente in 2014-15.

     Rancho AA, LLC’s Valiantt won his trial by a head over EG High Desert Farm’s La Estrella Corona, who was the only mare among the 19 runners that competed in the trials. After moving on to the final, La Estrella Corona will look to become the first mare to win the Vessels Maturity since Five Bar Molly in 2007.

     As for Valiantt, the Valentin Zamudio-trainee has won two of his three starts since arriving at Los Alamitos. Adrian Gonzalez of Rancho AA, LLC. was thrilled to see his Valiant Hero gelding move on to his first Grade 1 stakes race since competing against Empressum in last year’s Texas Classic Derby.

     “The horse had a little bit of trouble getting used to the lights in his first start here,” Gonzalez said. “The final looks extremely difficult, but we are thankful to Valentin for helping him reach the final. Our goal was to be a part of this final. We’re blessed that our plans came into fruition. To be in this race is a big achievement.”

     “This horse may not be big in size, but he has a huge heart,” Zamudio said. “He doesn’t like to be close to the rail. He wants to move away from it, but he gives you his all.”








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