The 49th Champion of Champion on Saturday, December 11
The 49th running of the Champion of Champions will be headed by defending winner Apollitical Pence plus six other Grade 1 stakes winners and a talented 10-horse field. Apollitical Pence will look to become only the fourth horse to win back-to-back runnings of the Champion of Champions with an opportunity to join AQHA World Champions Dash For Cash (1976-77), Refrigerator (1992, ‘93 and ‘94) and SLM Big Daddy (1997-98) in this exclusive club. Tailor Fit is the only other horse to have won this race more than once. He won in 1999 and 2001.
Apollitical Pence heads Dunn Ranch trio
Apollitical Pence entered the running of the 2020 Champion of Champions as the only horse in the field without a Grade 1 victory. Fast forward 12 months and the son of Apollitical Jess is back in the Champion of Champions now with a chance to become the first back-to-back winner of this race since SLM Big Daddy in 1997-98.
In winning last year’s running, Apollitical Pence bumped at the start, was bumped again but then flew in the final 150 yards to move past early leader Hotsempting, Dexxter and then Dexxter to win the 440-yard running by a neck. His return campaign in 2021 has been solid. After winning the Mighty Deck Three Stakes at Remington Park, the Dunn Ranch and Womack Cavender Farms-bred runner was second to Danjer in the Debbie Schauf Remington Park Invitational Championship, fourth to You Can Go in the Champion of Champions and third to his familiar rival, Powerful Favorite, in the Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship.
After those three misses in Grade 1 races, Apollitical Pence clinched his return berth to the Champion of Champions by posting the fastest time in the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials. Last year, he qualified to the Champion of Champions by running second in the Z. Wayne.
Apollitical Pence is one of three horses in the Champion of Champions for Dunn Ranch of Wynnewood, Oklahoma. The ranch is home to a growing list of Quarter Horse stallions led by Rainbow Futurity winner A Revenant, 2006 Champion of Champions winner Wave Carver, Dash Masters Jess and One Valiant Hero. Dunn Ranch will stand 2020 Governor’s Cup Futurity winner Constituent next year.
Dunn Ranch’s two other runners in this race are Candy Blood, owned in partnership with Rick Sumner, and the homebred Really First Down. Sumner bred Candy Blood, a 3-year-old gelding by 2015 All American Derby winner Apollitical Blood. Candy Blood was third in the All American Derby this year before winning his trial to the Z. Wayne Griffin in the second fastest qualifying time of the night.
Candy Blood is Sumner’s richest runner ever. The owner has also campaigned Ranch Candy, who was third to High Rate Of Return in the 2011 Heritage Place Futurity. Candy Candy Blood has had a big sophomore campaign. In addition to making the Champion of Champions and his All American effort, he was second to Flash Bak in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby and fourth in the Grade 1 Rainbow Derby. Candy Blood has started four times at 440 yards in 2021, tying him with Flash Bak for the most starts at a quarter of a mile this year.
The legendary First Down Dash won the Champion of Champions in 1987 and also sired five winners of this race in A Ransom (2000), The Down Side (2003), Cash For Kas (2004), Ocean Runaway (2005), Wave Carver (2006). Really First Down finished second to Apollitical Pence in the Z. Wayne trials, which was good enough to earn him the 10th and final spot to this prestigious race.
Full Brothers, Full of Talent
The cross of Favorite Cartel and Remember Me Rose is perhaps the best in Quarter Horse racing right now, but don’t overlook the pairing of Favorite Cartel and the stakes winning broodmare Moonlight Corona. This breeding has resulted in a pair of stakes winning males in Circle City and Nomadic, each a derby winner in 2020 and now both are finalists to the Grade 1 Champion of Champions on Saturday.
Owned and bred by Ed Allred, Circle City and Nomadic been elite performers since their 2-year-old campaigns. The sorrell gelding Nomadic posted the fastest qualifying time to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity last year before winning the Governor’s Cup Derby and Grade 2 Southern California Derby in 2020.
The older of the two brothers by 45 days, Nomadic’s best efforts this year have been a runner-up effort to Circle City in the Restricted Grade 1 Spencer Childers California Breeders Championship Handicap and a second to Candy Blood in the first division of the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trial. He was second to You Can Run in the Go Man Go Handicap.
Circle City, meanwhile, won three out of his five starts during his 2-year-old season in 2019. He returned with a sophomore campaign highlighted by his victory in the Grade 2 Golden State Derby before finishing out of the money to Nomadic in the Southern California Derby. The gray runner is now among the top aged runners of the season after winning the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity and the Restricted Grade 1 Spencer Childers.
Full siblings have won this race before as Ocean Runaway (2005) and Wave Carver (2006) got the big prize in back-to-back years. Full brothers Griswold and Apprehend raced in the Champion of Champions in consecutive years as well, but this is the first time that full siblings have gone head to head in the biggest race for older horses. Both runners are trained by Scott Willoughby, who was last year’s leading Quarter Horse trainer.
“With Circle City, we gave him time off at the start of the year and it really helped him,” Willoughby said. “It got his mind back on his business. Obviously, he’s doing great. He’s doing better in the gate and seems to have matured quite a big for us. Nomadic is just getting bigger and stronger.”
Allred is Quarter Horse racing’s all-time leading owner and breeder. He’s won the Champion of Champions twice before, first with Charger Bar in 1973 and then with He Looks Hot in 2019. Back in April of 2019, Allred became the first owner to reach the 100 Quarter Horse stakes win milestone with Well Good in the Kaweah Bar. In that same year, Allred became the first owner to reach 1,500 career Quarter Horse wins and the first to reach $20 million in career earnings as a Quarter Horse owner.
Streelman looks for big year to continue
Dr. James Streelman is having one of the best years of his career as owner. His juvenile star, Jess Savin Candy, won the Ruidoso Futurity and Rainbow Futurity at Ruidoso Downs and with Flash Bak, he’s won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby in February and now the Los Alamitos Super Derby. Flash Bak’s win in the Super Derby has given Streelman only his third starter ever in the Champion of Champions.
“I’ve only run in 35 years twice in the Champion of Champions,” Streelman said. “This has been a good year. I just have to thank God for my blessings,”
Streelman’s only starters in the Champion of Champions have been Zure Hope Again in 1988 and Chazaq in 2017.
Streelman, who had a heart transplant in 2013, was full of zest on the night of the Super Derby, lifting the Super Derby trophy while surrounding by his family and friends in the winner’s circle.
“Somebody asked me about my birthday recently,” Streelman said. “My birth (year) is 1945. That makes me 76, however, if you average my parts, I’m only about 60. The doctors gave my heart another 200,000 miles to go. My heart is doing good.”
Flash Bak ran in the Los Alamitos Super Derby thanks to Streelman paying the supplemental fee of $30,000 to make him eligible to the trials.
“I’ve paid the supplement twice before. I paid it with a horse by the name of Forget It. (Former Los Alamitos Nominations Director) Melodie Knuchell told me I had to run fifth to get my money back and Forget It ran third. (Flash Bak) did a little better. Jaime and (assistant trainer) Carlos Lopez got this guy ready.
In addition to his exploits at Los Alamitos, Flash Bak raced in the All American Futurity last year and the Rainbow Derby this year.
Gomez, who won the Champion of Champions with the great Jess You And I in 2008, is having one of his best seasons at Los Alamitos. Gomez is currently the meet’s leading Quarter Horse trainer with 59 wins, two more last year’s leading trainer Scott Willoughby. If Gomez can hold on to the top spot in the standing, this would be his first leading trainer title. When Gomez moved into the top spot over the summer. he noted that it was the first time he had been leading the standings that far into the meet.
He Can Run With The Best
Dr. Steve Burns has grown and developed his Burns Ranch into one of the most influential breeding operations of Quarter Horses in the country as the home of stallions Favorite Cartel, Walk Thru Fire, Foose, Seperate Interest, and Fly Thru The Fire.
The hard work and dedication of everyone at Burns Ranch led to Dr. Burns being recognized with the AQHA champion breeder title in 2019. His breeding statistics during the title winning year were outstanding, topping the breeder category with earnings of $3,241,760 to go along with an 18%-win rate. Dr. Burns followed it with a tremendous 2020 season in which he finished as the nation’s second leading breeder with $3,017,882 in earnings. He is currently in earnings as a breeder with over $2.2 million. Over the past few years, Dr. Burns’ has bred outstanding runners like Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity winner Runforyourlife, Grade 1 winners Tequila Sangria and Chocolatito, and Governor’s Cup Futurity winners Constituent and Pitbull, plus Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity top qualifier Bomb Cyclone. In partnership with James Markum, Dr. Burns is also the co-breeder of multiple Grade 1 winner Powerful Favorite, who is one of the favorite in this year’s Champion of Champions.
As owner, Dr. Burns has also campaigned a great collection of stakes winners led by Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity winner Little Talks, two-time Grade 1 winner Tequila Sangria and You Can Run, the winner of this year’s Go Man Go Handicap and one of the 10 stars in the Champion of Champions.
Trained by Mike Casselman, the gelding by Favorite Cartel won the Grade 1 Go Man Go at 9-1 odds after holding off Champion of Champions rival Nomadic. You Can Run’s received a presumptive berth to this race after Powerful Favorite won the Grade 1 Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship. That result gave Powerful Favorite two presumptive berths, meaning one of them would revert to the winner of the Go Man Go winner.
You Can Run’s dam is You Can Fly, a four-time winner in 21 career starts while racing from the spring of 2016 to December of 2018.
“She was a really fast mare, one of the fastest I’ve ever had,” Casselman said. “She was just a real poor gate horse. We did everything to try to get here to leave the gate, stand in the gate. (You Can Run) will stand good in the gate. I think he’ll be okay at 440.”
Jockey Cruz Mendez added, “He always finishes strong.”
Power And Emotion
Rosenthal Ranch’s Powerful Favorite, a seven-time stakes winner at Los Alamitos during his stellar four-year career, will make his second start in the Champion of Champions after finishing third to fellow returnee Apollitical Pence in last year’s running.
He’ll enter this year’s race in fine form having won the Grade 1 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship in February and the Grade 1 Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship in October, one of only two horses to have won both of those races.
After the Brad McKinzie, owner Connie Rosenthal had a few tears in her eyes while watching Powerful Favorite enter the winner’s circle. The emotion came from remembering her husband, Bob Rosenthal, less than two months before Powerful Favorite made his first career start on April 29, 2018.
“He was Bob’s last pick,” said Connie Rosenthal, who married Bob in 1955. “He picked him out at the (Los Alamitos) Equine Sale, so it’s his horse. We are just along for the ride. I can’t begin to tell you who would think this would have happened. I didn’t. I never thought on those terms. We always had small little claimers, but this has just been (an) exciting time of my life, (yet) to do it without my husband, it’s something else. I hope I’m representing him and our horses well by letting them run where they need to run.”
From the incredibly family of stallion Favorite Cartel and the mare Remember Me Rose, Powerful Favorite’s other major wins include the Grade 1 Go Man Go Handicap in 2020 and the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby in 2019.
“We love to be in those big races,” trainer Chris O’Dell said. “The Champion of Champions is just so prestigious. I’ve been close many times and haven’t gotten it and this if the horse that can do it if everything is right. He was third last year and that was a very tough group of horses. He’s such a cool customer. He’s in good shape. We’ve changed his diet. He’s not carrying as much weight as he carried before. He’s tucked up a little bit. Things are lot smoother. We wouldn’t have him without Connie. She was at the sale and pushed us to buy him. We’re here because of her.”
As always, jockey Eduardo Nicasio will ride Powerful Favorite. Nicasio is a three-time winner of the Champion of Champions.
The Pride of Brazil
Reason To Fly Mv became only the third sophomore filly since 2007 to win the Grade 1, $125,000 Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap after powering past the great Apollitical Patty while also holding off eventual runner-up Kiss Thru Fire’s strong late rush. The filly by Good Reason SA also gave owner Paulo Otavio Freire Macedo his first graded stakes victory in the United States.
A leading owner in his native land of Brazil, Freire Macedo has been a stalwart supporter of Quarter Horse racing at Los Alamitos over the past 11 years. During that span, the owner has won 25 races from 145 starts while campaigning stakes winner Solid Connection and graded stakes placed runners King of Appeals Mv and Madam Of Fire Mv.
Second in the Grade 2 Golden State Derby earlier this year, Reason To Fly Mv got the job done for her owner in the Mildred Vessels to give Freire Macedo his second starter in the Champion of Champions after the mare Solid Connection made the field in 2015.
“The filly is of course out of (stakes winner) Take a Look, who we bought out of the Los Alamitos Equine Sale for Mr. Macedo from Dr. Ed Allred,” said Vince Genco, who manages Macedo’s racing stock in the United States. “(Take A Look) topped the sale that year (for $205,000). We bred her to Good Reason SA and Mr. Macedo has a full sister to her in Brazil, who is also very nice. We’ve taken our time with her. She’s very lightly raced. Mr. Macedo has been very patient with her and Jose has done a great job with her and she likes the distance as a 3-year-old.”
“I’m very happy for Mr. Macedo, Dr. Gustavo and Vince Genco,” added winning trainer Jose Flores. “They’ve given me the opportunity with (this horse) and we finally got one for Mr. Macedo. We put her in the Mildred Vessels almost as a prep race for the Los Alamitos Super Derby (trials). We were either going to have to work her or run her here. We decided to run her. I have a ton of respect for Apollitical Patty and all the great horses that we faced. It was Reason To Fly Mv’s (night) and she got it done.”
The richest runner campaigned by Freire Macedo in the United States, Reason To Fly MV joined Tequila Sangria in 2019 and Blues Girl Too in 2007 as the other 3-year-old fillies to win the Mildred Vessels in the last 15 years. The last sophomore filly to win the Champion of Champions is Blues Girl Too in 2007.
Cat Daddys Lil Girl is their pride and joy
Owned and bred by cousins Jimmy Negrete and Jimmy Vazquez of Carlsbad, New Mexico, Cat Daddys Lil Girl has been one of the top aged mares in the country in 2021.The gray mare by Big Daddy Cartel has started five times this year and has hit the board every single time, the highlight being a Grade 1 victory in the Junos Request Handicap at Remington Park.
Cat Daddys Lil Girl will now look to become the first aged mare since Dash For Speed in 1990 to win the Champion of Champions.
“We’re grateful and blessed for having these horses,” said Dinah Negrete, wife of owner Jimmy. “My husband has been involved in Quarter Horse racing for 38 years. They’ve been a blessing.”
In 2012, Vazquez joined Negrete in a racing partnership that involved Girlonthego, who is Cat Daddys Lil Girl’s mother. Since then, the two have campaigned a select number of top sprinters that has included Grade 1 winner Ryansmanonthemoon, winner of the 2019 Zia Park Quarter Horse Championship. On the same, Cat Daddys Lil Girl also won the Restricted Grade 1 Zia Park Fillies & Mares Championship.
“We now raise all of our horses here in Carlsbad, New Mexico. It’s a great partnership. We talk about everything. It’s been nearly 10 years now and hopefully we have a couple of more coming up including a couple of full brothers to Ryansmanonthemoon,” added Dinah, who is also a big time Quarter Horse racing fan. “My husband says he’s blessed because I love the horses so much. I see them first he always says. Then our whole family gets involved. It’s a lot of fun. We are also so thankful to have the Giles Racing Team as part of our team. They’ve done so much for Cat Daddys Lil Girl.
Negrete is a safety coordinator in the oil industry, while Vazquez operates Black River Trucking. They’ve both have also ventured out on their own racing operations. Negrete is partners with Carlos Lopez on Grade 1 futurity finalist Docs Fastlane, while Vazquez also has a string of his own runners.