AN EVEN FASTER EMPRESSUM DOMINATES GRADE 1 VESSELS MATURITY
Following a sensational 2 ¼ length victory in the June 11 trials to the Grade 1, $156,300 Vessels Maturity, AQHA champion Empressum returned in the Vessels final with an even faster performance, flying from the outside post to record to a stunning 1 ¾ length win over nine top rivals on Sunday night at Los Alamitos.
Let’s compare some of the stats. In his Vessels trial, Empressum led by a ½ length right from the start before closing the final 220 yards in a time :09.23 and a winning time at 400 yards of :19.44. His come home time in the last 220 yards was the fastest recorded here at the 400-yard distance since July 30, 2011. His winning time in the trials was also the meet’s fastest.
On Sunday night in the Vessels final, Empressum once again led by a ½ length after leaving the gate from post 10, coming home in an even faster :09.21 clocking and crossing the wire in a time of :19.329. Simply put, Jeff Jones and Steve Holt’s Empressum went from rocket fast in the trials to supersonic fast and his winning time is the third fastest ever in the 51-year history of the Vessels Maturity. Ridden by Rodrigo Sigala Vallejo for trainer Heath Taylor, the Oklahoma homebred recorded the fastest Vessels Maturity win since champion Snitcher traveled in a time of :19.18 in the 2011 running. The stakes record is held by the World Champion Freaky in 2009.
Sired by Apollitical Jess and out of the First Down Dash mare Crazy Down Corona, Empressum finished ahead of Ed Allred’s Grade 2 winner Monopolist. EG High Desert Farm’s La Estrella Corona, the only mare in the race, and Allred’s Up And Atem finished in a dead heat for third place. With the win, Empressum improved his record to 15 wins from 20 starts. He earned $65,646 for the win to take his lifetime earnings to $1,169,775. The 2021 AQHA champion 3-year-old gelding has now won 11 of his last 13 starts, with four of those wins being Grade 1 stakes victories.
“The horse has settled in well and he’s trained really well between the trials and final,” Taylor said. “You never know how they’re going to come back. He ran a really strong, fast race the first time (at Los Alamitos). He felt great and ate well. A lot of the people here that have been here a long time, they really liked the draw. I didn’t know if it was going to be okay or not be okay. Back when I was here before, many, many years ago, mostly with 2-year-olds, if you got into a futurity final you just pray not to get the 10. He’s a professional horse, a professional rider and he does run with a flipping halter. The success he’s had, the horse has been an exceptional gate horse, you don’t really want to change any type of equipment when they’re running like that. With the 10 I was thinking, ‘man, he’s going to load first,’ which is part of it. I just wanted to get a good clean start up on his feet and go straight. The horse is just a really, fast horse.
“Rodrigo said one of his back legs slipped just a little tiny bit because he tried to break really fast and that just shot him (to the outside) because he’s almost like a drag car. He’s so fast. He drifted out just a little bit, but he saw that he was clear, good smooth stride, he started bringing him back in a little bit. He’s very guidable. The whole goal was to try to get him eligible to the Champion of Champions in December. The race is $750,000 this year and it’s a special race every year. It’ll be a really special race again this year. I’ve thought about putting the horse in the AQHA regional challenge, but I don’t know if I want to haul the horse to Indiana and then come back. The All American Gold Cup is a possibility, but realistically, as far as for the horse, I would say most likely the Go Man Go is the most logical step.”
Empressum’s owners, Jeff Jones and Steve Holt, were beaming in the winner’s circle following another great race from their homebred.
“It’s beyond my imagination that he can continue to do what he’s doing” Jones said. “He knows that he’s special. I give a lot of credit to Steve. He raised him since he was a baby, took care of him, and the horse seems to know that he’s a star.”
“He was really smart, but kind of a standoffish baby,” Holt recalled. “Anything you could do with him, he picked it up immediately. I halter break him, I do it all. He was a really blessing to have at the house. He was just very intelligent. Jeff named him because he was always a colt that caught your eye. He came up with Empressum, tweaked the spelling to get the name. I give him that credit.
“Heath has kept him at a peak level and when he has to give him a break, Heath knows how to let them down and then bring them back up to a peak level,” Holt continued. “The horse is a great athlete, but without Heath’s team and Rodrigo, and you can’t say enough about Rodrigo, and the horse has the best grooms and best help. We owe it to Heath for this horse being so consistent.”
Empressum’s sire is Apollitical Jess, who is a household name at Los Alamitos after winning both the Champion of Champions and Los Alamitos Super Derby in 2010 in route to a track record and eventually that year’s AQHA World Champion title. The dam of Empressum is Crazy Down Corona, the result of smart planning by Holt and Jones.
“This is how Jeff and I partnered,” Holt said. “I had a mare named Crazy About Corona by Corona Cartel and Jeff had a share on First Down Dash. We decided to get them together, we’d share it, and I would raise (the baby) and go from there.”
The result was Crazy Down Corona, a finalist to the 2010 Heritage Place Futurity and winner of over $73,000 in her six-race career.
“She was an outstanding racehorse herself,” Holt said of Crazy Down Corona. “She was so massively large at a young age. I blame myself. We went a little early and if we had waited on the mare, she would have made a lot of money too. She qualified to a Grade 1 as a 2-year-old and chipped in the final. We took her home and did surgery. We brought her back at three and she chipped again. I said, ‘her value is in the broodmare band’ and that’s how we got her. I still have her now. We have a Flying Cowboy 123 weanling and we bred her back to Apollitical Jess.”
Two races, two monster wins from Empressum and there might be more where that came from.
“We haven’t seen the best of him yet,” Jones said. “Rodrigo hasn’t rode him like I’ve seen him ride him.”
Trained by James Glenn, Jr. and ridden by Oscar Peinado, Monopolist ran another strong race while finishing second once again to Empressum. The Favorite Cartel gelding earned $26,571 for his effort to improve his career earnings to $414,075. The Santos Perez-trained La Estrella Corona and the Scott Willoughby-trained Up And Atem each earned $14,848 for running third. Completing the field were Valiantt, Circle City, You Can Run, Bail Czech, Mister Tornado, and Just A Dasha Hero.