LARC NEWS Posted: 2/20/2023 2:02:44 AM


     The nation’s best Quarter Horse racing rivalry had its most thrilling episode yet, as two-time Champion of Champions winner Apollitical Pence held off an incredible late rush from AQHA World Champion Empressum to successfully defend his title in the Grade 1, $144,850 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship on Sunday night.

In the third matchup between these two Quarter Horse giants, Dunn Ranch’s Apollitical Pence delivered the first blow, as he flew out of the gate from post five, opening a 1 ¼ length lead on Steve Holt and Jeff Jones’ Empressum.  On most nights, that would have been a wrap on another victory by Apollitical Pence, but not this time. This time, Empressum fought back gallantly, as he quickly began to make amends for his slow start. The 2022 Champion of Champions winner picked up speed in a huge way after the midway point of the 400-yard race, but it was in the final 50 yards that he really turned on the afterburners.

By then, Empressum was devouring ground and in the final yards he found a way to reach Apollitical Pence to the point that it looked like had successfully completed one of the greatest come from behind victories in the history of Los Alamitos. Empressum’s incredible finish came up just a few inches short, but their trilogy of races is now firmly placed in the annals of racing at Los Alamitos.  

The final margin of victory for Apollitical Pence was a nose and his winning time was :19.380, the fastest in the Brad McKinzie since Good Reason SA won the 2011 running in :19.32. The 7-year-old son of Apollitical Jess also became the third to win multiple runnings of this race, joining BH Lisas Boy (2017-18) and Whosleavingwho (2003 and 2005) in this exclusive club. Armando Cervantes piloted Apollitical Jess for trainer Monty Arrossa. Empressum, who is trained by Heath Taylor, finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of third place finisher Scoops Dynasty.   

“That last 100 yards Tracy Taylor, Heath’s wife, came to me and said to me ‘I think you rode the horse harder than Armando did,’ “ Arrossa said. “I was slapping my hands, excited, cheering. Empressum was rolling. I honestly didn’t know if we had won it at the wire. I feel lucky. Empressum is a great horse, obviously. He’s a World Champion for a reason. We were lucky to outrun him tonight. It’s a great rivalry. It’s great for Quarter Horse racing. It’s fun to be a part of it. I hated to get outrun by him in the Champion of Champions, but I totally respect the horse. I am sure we will run against him in the summer.”

Apollitical Pence has now won 19 of 37 career starts, while finishing in the money in 31 of his outings. He earned $60,879 in the Brad McKinzie to take his career earnings to $1,775,634. Prior to this victory, Apollitical Pence won his trial by a ½ length. In those same trials, Empressum needed another rally to catch Scoops Dynasty and win a nose.  

“Pence ran a good trial race, but I don’t think he had to run as hard as (Empressum) had to,” Arrossa said. “Empressum and Scoops Dynasty battled pretty hard in the trials. I thought it took the toll on Scoops Dynasty a little bit. It took him a little time to come back after the trials. I don’t know about Empressum. We were hoping that Pence would be a little fresher (in the final). We were hoping it would set up that way. We kind of switched it up a bit with (Apollitical Pence) between the trials and the final. We took him to the gate twice which we usually don’t do. We usually only take him once. We did things a little different with him. It was a little nerve wracking in the gate, but when he broke, I was feeling good. The last 100 yards I was pretty nervous.

“Armando Cervantes, I have to give all the credit to him,” Arrossa continued. “He’s done a phenomenal job, not just with this horse, but with our entire barn. He works hard. He’s here every single day. He loves this horse. I get a little worried about him like in the warmups when I watch him. He tells me not to worry and that we got this. He’s the one that suggested that maybe we stand him one more time. He’s been real instrumental in helping us prepare this horse.”

As the horses were being loaded in the gate, Howard Nichols’ Jess Being A Friend broke through the gate and jogged for a few yards before being brought back to reload. Apollitical Pence handled the situation like a pro, as he remained focused on his task.

“I think it just pushed Pence a little bit (closer) to the gate,” Cervantes explained. “He settled good and when they opened it, he went off.”  

“You never know what the horses are thinking,” Arrossa said. “I’ve always been a believer that you can’t do too much gate schooling even when they get to be older horses. It’s critical. You win them or lose them here. I mean if we would have left one step slower, we would have gotten beat today. I noticed that he false started just a little bit when Jess Being A Friend false started through the front. It looked like he stayed focused. He got his break tonight. It’s amazing. He’s a one in a million horse. We are just blessed.”

As Apollitical Pence held on to his lead by a thread in the final moments of the Brad McKinzie, Arrossa had a brief thought run through his mind.

“Zooming For Spuds and BH Lisas Boy, they had a great rivalry,” Arrossa explained. “They were both Idaho-breds, both Grade 1 winners. Spuds had him outrun early and BH Lisas Boy caught him at the wire in the Boniface. I had a kind of a déjà vu right there. I was thinking did we get caught right there? It was a great race. They are at the top echelon in the business. I told Tracy Taylor as we were standing down there that I felt really good at 395 yards, but at 400 yards I wasn’t feeling as good and at 401 I wasn’t either.”

In the end, it was Apollitical Pence’s night to celebrate his 11th career stakes win and his seventh stakes win at Los Alamitos.

“It’s amazing just to ride a horse like this,” Cervantes said. “He has always been honest in the gate. He stands there, he jumps and takes off. I broke in front and I just kept him busy because I know that Empressum is a hard closer. Towards the middle I didn’t see nothing much. Towards the end I started seeing him coming, but by then the wire was coming. I thought it was pretty tight. He was still quite a distance from me. I kind of peeked out and by the way I seen it I thought I had it won by a little bit.”

Apollitical Pence will bypass the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity, which has trials in mid-June. Instead, he’ll head home to Oklahoma for some well-deserved R&R.

“We are going to give Pence a break,” Arrossa said. ”We are going to turn him out for a little while. That’s what we did last year, and it worked well for us. He’s battled hard every time. He’s 7-years-old. He’s super sound, but it’s time for him to get a break. We’ll plan his summer after we give him a little break. He has his own pen at Dunn Ranch and has his own paddock. They bring him in at night and then take him out in the morning. He’s pretty pampered.”

Ridden by Rodrigo Sigala Vallejo, Empressum earned $24,642 for his runner-up effort. The 4-year-old by Apollitical Jess has now earned $1,650,167 while winning 18 of 25 career starts. Edward and Von Zae McNelis’ Scoops Dynasty added $17,394 to his career bankroll which now stands at $431,092. Stuck In Probate, Dasha Dynasty, Dasha Good Reason, Jess Being A Friend, London Toby, Mister Tornado, and Amadeus MV completed the field.



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