DANJER, APOLLITICAL PENCE, EMPRESSUM ARE FIRST THREE INVITED TO 2022 CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
Danjer, the 2021 AQHA World Champion Racing Quarter Horse, has set his sights on the Grade 1, $750,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos Race Course.
Owned by Dean Frey, Downtime Enterprises LLC, and Billy Smith, the 6-year-old gelding by FDD Dynasty was one of three superstars officially invited to compete in the 50th renewal of the Champions, and his connections have since notified track management that the five-time AQHA champion will indeed make the 440-yard classic a big part of his schedule for this season.
A seven-time Grade 1 winner in his brilliant career, Danjer joins Dunn Ranch’s two-time Champion of Champions winner Apollitical Pence and Steve Holt and Jeff Jones’ 2021 AQHA champion 3-year-old Empressum as the first three Quarter Horse standouts to be invited to the prestigious Champion of Champions to be held here on Saturday, December 10.
“I know Dean Frey (mailed) the paperwork back accepting the invitation,” Smith said. “Everything is set for Danjer to go to Los Alamitos. He’ll be there.”
Danjer, a winner of 17 of 29 career starts and $1,693,040 in lifetime earnings, was named the AQHA World Champion, AQHA champion aged horse, and AQHA champion aged gelding in 2021 after winning five of seven starts including Grade 1 stakes races at four different tracks. Bred and trained by Dean Frey, the Oklahoma bred was also named the AQHA champion aged horse and champion aged gelding in 2020 after winning a pair of Grade 1 stakes and four of his six starts. The brown gelding has continued his terrific form in 2022, winning two of three starts, including the Grade 1 Debbie Schauf Remington Park Invitational Championship Stakes at Remington Park on May 28 and the Grade 3 Bank of America Canterbury Park Championship Challenge Stakes on July 14.
“In my opinion, Danjer is a once in a lifetime horse,” Smith said. “He has done everything Dean has asked him to do and I believe we’ve managed him the right way. We don’t push him and if he’s not at the top of his game we won’t run him. He’s a very professional horse. You don’t have to make him run. He does everything so naturally. Very seldom do you have to ask him to do something.”
The date of the Champion of Champions on December 10 has now been circled on Danjer’s upcoming itinerary for this year.
“We redid Danjer’s schedule and have added the Champion of Champions,” Smith added. “We are looking to run him probably two more times before he gets to Los Alamitos, and we are looking forward to facing the best out there. We know Apollitical Pence is a great horse and Empressum is another great horse. Those three horses already make it a great, great race.”
Major events like the (G1) Bank of America Challenge Championship at Horseshoe Indianapolis on October 22 are among the races being considered for Danjer prior to the Champions of Champion. The World Champion has won the last two runnings of the Bank of America Challenge Championship and no horse has ever won this race three times. If everything continues to go smoothly, Danjer could then be headed to Los Alamitos Race Course after racing in Indianapolis Smith added.
“I think the way this schedule sets up will be great for Danjer,” Smith said. “The spacing of the races is how he likes it. I’m sure he’ll get a turn and work at Los Alamitos, hopefully under the lights. He’s run under the lights many times before, but it would be nice for him to do that before the race.”
Danjer has never raced at Los Alamitos, but he is an experienced traveler, as has already started at seven different racetracks during his accomplished and decorated career.
“Dean worked him (220 yards on Saturday at Ruidoso Downs), and he looked great. Dean has done an excellent job of managing him. He knows the horse better than anyone. I really like how Danjer is running right now. He's been breaking with the leaders in his last few races and if he keeps doing that, he’ll be tough to beat.”
Apollitical Pence and Empressum have each gone two for two at Los Alamitos this year, each winning a Grade 1 stakes race here in the process. Owned by Dunn Ranch, Apollitical Pence has won the last two runnings of the Champion of Champions and will look to join the legendary Refrigerator as the only three-time winners of this great race. The gelding by Apollitical Jess has won 14 of 31 starts with $1,516,985 in career earnings. Trained by Monty Arrossa, Apollitical Pence won the Grade 1 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship earlier this year.
Recently, Apollitical Pence worked from the gate at Ruidoso Downs on August 9, traveling 330 yards in :16.91. He also had a 220-yard turn and work in :12.48 on July 21 at Ruidoso.
Empressum, the champion 3-year-old and champion 3-year-old gelding in 2021, was incredible in winning the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity at Los Alamitos on July 3. He was equally impressive when winning his Vessels trial in early June. Also sired by Apollitical Jess, Empressum has won 15 of 21 starts with career earnings of $1,169,775. The Heath Taylor-trainee has won a total of four Grade 1 stakes races during his stellar career.
Empressum’s most recent recorded work was on August 9 at Los Alamitos. The Holt and Jones-bred runner had a 220-yard turn and work here in :12.30.
While Apollitical Pence, Danjer, and Empressum are the first three racehorses to be invited to the 50th running Champion of Champions, additional invitees will be notified and eventually announced as major races continue to be held nationally in the upcoming months. Trials to the Champion of Champions will also be contested at Los Alamitos on November 13 to complete the field to Quarter Horse racing’s most prestigious race for 3-year-olds and upwards. For more information, please contact Los Alamitos Race Course at 714-820-2690.