LARC NEWS Posted: 12/13/2020 1:44:05 AM




          The 48th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions began with nine out of the 10 Quarter Horses in the race already being Grade 1 winners. The prestigious 440-yard race finished with all 10 starters being Grade 1 winners after Dunn Ranch LLC & Valeriano Racing Stables LLC’s Apollitical Pence earned his first victory at the highest racing level thanks to a hard-fought neck victory over Martha Wells’ Tell Cartel on Saturday at Los Alamitos Race Course.

          Ridden by Raul Valenzuela for trainer John Cooper, Apollitical Pence overcome trouble at the start, as he broke out and was bumped a couple of times before floating to the inside. Once he found some room to operate, the gelding by Apollitical Jess turned on the jets, as he moved from fourth to second to battle Rosenthal Ranch’s Powerful Favorite at the midway point of the quarter mile classic. The Dunn Ranch and Womack Cavender Farms-bred runner continued strongly in the final half, moving ahead of Powerful Favorite and then managing to keep the sophomore star Tell Cartel at bay to record his ninth career win in 23 starts. Certainly no win has been bigger for Apollitical Pence, who was scoring the third stakes win of his career, his first coming in the Grade 3 Heritage Place Derby at Remington Park in 2019 before he added the Grade 2 Mighty Deck Three Stakes at Remington Park on March 6.

          As far as Grade 1 races were concerned, few active horses had knocked on the door as often as Apollitical Pence. As a 2-year-old in 2018, he qualified to the three Grade 1 futurities with seven-figure purses at Los Alamitos – the Ed Burke Million Futurity, Golden State Million Futurity, and Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. In 2019, he finished third in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby last year and fourth in the Grade 1 Championship at Sunland Park Stakes. In 2020, Apollitical Pence was third in the Grade 1 Downs at Albuquerque Championship Handicap and third in the Debbie Schauf Remington Park Invitational Championship Stakes. He qualified to the Champion of Champions after running second in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials on November 15.

          Then, after a bumpy start in the Champion of Champions, Apollitical Pence began to knock on the door of an elusive Grade 1 victory early on and 20 seconds into the race, he came busting through. Winning at 12-1 odds, Apollitical Pence is the eighth largest longshot winner in the history of the Champion of Champions. Covered the 440-yards in :21.442, he earned $300,000 for the win to take his career earnings over the one-million-dollar mark. He has now earned $1,017,391 and has finished in the money in 18 of 23 career outings.

          Cooper, who is the dean of Quarter Horse trainers at Los Alamitos, was picking up his 1,500th Quarter Horse victory at the Orange County track, joining a club with only two other members, the legendary Blane Schvaneveldt and Paul Jones, the sport’s all-time leader in earnings. Cooper was saddling his second winner in the Champion of Champions, his first coming with Mr. Doty Bars over 40 years ago. When Cooper saddled Mr Doty Bars to victory in the 1979 Champion of Champions, ESPN was only three months old, Wayne Gretzky had scored his first ever goal just two months earlier, the Seattle Supersonics were the reigning NBA champions, the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by Willie Stargell, had just won the World Series, and Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Spectacular Bid was on his way to being named 3-Year-Old Male Horse of the Year.

          Cooper also did not have a beard back then, which he does now after growing a stylish one for the past few months.

           “I think it’s time to shave it now,” said Cooper, the neatly trimmed facial hair barely visible behind his face covering. “Or maybe it gave me good luck.”

          Cooper has trained some true superstar in Quarter Horse racing. Over the years, he’s saddled champions Moonist, Separatist, Sign Of Lanty, Chingaderos and Cartel Jess Rockin, the nation’s champion 2-year-old filly after Cooper saddled her to victory in the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity for the late Ron Hartley.

          “I’m proud of (Apollitical Pence),” Cooper added. “I knew that he could run better than he did in the trials. He’s a good gate horse and left there running. I’m so happy I can hardly talk. It doesn’t get better than that. It really doesn’t. I don’t want to toot my horn. I just liked it. I don’t care if they know I’m here until I beat them. He’s a grand horse. I’m really happy.”

          The start of the Champion of Champions was delayed for several minutes after Bos Time Machine broke through the gate. Outrider Keith Craigmyle did a phenomenal job catching him shortly after and the race went on moments later. Through it all, Apollitical Pence and the rest of the horse behaved perfectly awaiting the start.

          “We’ve schooled him in the mornings, and he runs in a (flipping halter). It doesn’t bother him. I just watched him and (Dexxter), who broke good. I knew he was going to run a big race. He just looks good. He’s blossomed.”  

          Cooper considering retiring at the end of the year, but it looks like he’ll be around for a bit longer.

          “I was going to do that,” he said. “This was going to be my last year, but (Dana) Hartley come to me and said ‘John, you got dad to buy all them good mares and breed them to high-fire horses and now you’re going to leave? I said, ‘There’s things I want to do,’ and they told me to just go do them and just train them horses. I’ll stick around for a little bit.”

          Winning rider Raul Valenzuela was away from Los Alamitos and from all of racing from 2015 to 2019, but he’s had a nice comeback season at Los Alamitos since returning earning this year. Valenzuela has won 29 races in 2020, highlighted by his outstanding ride aboard Apollitical Pence.

          “It was a spectacular race,” he said. “He got away with them. Halfway down there, he was fighting, fighting. About the gap, I felt he pricked his ears back and bore down and gave me a second gear. That’s how we held on to get the win. It’s been a long, long road for me. I can’t put it into words. This goes out to my father. I dedicate this win to him, (Raul Valenzuela, Sr.). It means the world to me. I wouldn’t be here without him. He’s a trainer in Arizona and like I said this goes out to him. Warming up, Apollitical Jess felt good. I took him out earlier in the week. Cooper said get on him. He’s a mature horse. He does his job and he knows what he’s out here for. He gives it his all.”

          As for Dunn Ranch and Valeriano Racing Stables, they campaign the winners of five of 11 races in 2020 with earnings of more than $600,000. In addition to Apollitical Pence, Dunn Ranch and Valeriano Racing Stables also campaign Champion of Champions finalist Dexxter, who was the Horse of the Meet at Remington Park in 2020 and a three time Grade 1 winner. Dunn Ranch also owns Southern Wagon, the runner-up in the Los Alamitos Oaks and winner of the La Pacifica. They previously owned the brilliant filly Aint She Tempting in partnership with Levings Racing LLC. After Aint She Tempting qualified to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, Dunn and Levings sold the filly to top owner/breeder Julianna Hawn Holt.  

          In addition to the accomplishments of Apollitical Pence and Dexxter, Valeriano Racing Stables has won 12 other races from 54 starts for earnings of $1,393,947 this season. The wins included four graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million with Chance To Excel and the Grade 1 All American Derby with Gold Heart Eagle V. Valeriano Racing Stables’ two other graded stakes win – the Grade 2 Heritage Place Derby with Inaugurator and the Grade 3 Easy Date Stakes with Pj Splash Of Joy.  

          Owned and bred by Martha Wells, Tell Cartel was seventh at the start before starting to roll at the midway point. He moved into the top five, then third and finally second place to earn $96,000 for his effort for trainer Matt Fales and jockey Ruben Lozano. Now headed for stallion duty at Fales Ranch in Arizona, Tell Cartel retires as a three-time derby winner at Los Alamitos this year and with victories in nine of 19 starts and earnings of $796,386.

          Rosenthal Ranch LLC’s Powerful Favorite ran a very solid race throughout, as he was broke sharply, remained in the top two spots and just got caught late to end up in third place. Ridden by Eduardo Nicasio for AQHA champion trainer Chris O'Dell, Powerful Favorite earned $60,000 to raise his lifetime bankroll to $890,222.

          Ed Allred’s Chocolatito had a troubled start as he got bumped and was in eighth place at the start. He made a big run in the final 200 yards to move up from seventh to fourth place. Oscar Andrade, Jr. rode Chocolatito for trainer Scott Willoughby. He earned $42,000 to take his career bankroll to $283,953.

          A couple of stallion notes about the Champion of Champions, Apollitical Pence is the first Champion of Champions winner for AQHA World Champion Apollitical Jess, who won this race in stakes record time of :20.93 in 2010. In addition, the second, third, and fourth place finishers were all sired by Favorite Cartel.

          The top four finishers in the Champion of Champions were followed by six Grade 1 winners in the following order: Eagle Coast, Dexxter, Curls Happy Wagon, Hotsempting, Zoomin For Spuds, and Bos Time Machine.





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