WORLD CHAMPION EMPRESSUM WINS VESSELS MATURITY FOR SECOND YEAR IN A ROW
Owned and bred by Steve Holt and Jeff Jones, reigning AQHA World Champion Empressum successfully defended his Grade 1 Vessels Maturity after winning the $150,000 event by a neck over Ed and Von Zae McNelis’ Scoops Dynasty on Sunday at Los Alamitos.
Heavily favored in the 400-yard race, Empressum broke cleanly from post five and trailed early as he usually does before turning on the rockets and flying ahead of early leader Shott Gun and then Scoops Dynasty on the way to scoring his fourth Grade 1 stakes win at Los Alamitos. In the process, Empressum is only the sixth Quarter Horse to win consecutive runnings of this prestigious race joining Jazzing Hi, Avison, A Ransom, Be A Bono and Far Niente on this impressive list. A Ransom, the 2000 World Champion, is the only one to win three straight Vessels Maturity finals.
Empressum’s winning time of :19.303 is the third fastest in the history of Vessels Maturity only behind 2009 World Champion Freaky’s stakes record of :19.15 and Snitcher’s :19.18 clocking 2011. In addition, Empressum’s winning time was nearly 3/100ths of a second faster than his :19.329 clocking last year and his closing time of :09.20 also bettered last year’s :09.21. Based on those stats, Empressum was better and faster in his 2023 Vessels Maturity victory than he was in his memorable win in last year’s running, which kicked off a string of big victories at Los Alamitos in route to earning the title of World Champion.
Sired by Apollitical Jess and out of the broodmare Crazy Down Corona, Empressum improved his career record to 20 wins from 27 starts and his earnings of $63,000 took his lifetime bankroll to $1,717,567. He’s also won seven of his nine starts at Los Alamitos, including last year’s Grade 1 Champion of Champions.
“The horse stood up there and he left quite a bit better tonight,” Taylor said. “it was a quality field and sure happy to get the presumptive berth to this year’s Champion of Champions, obviously that’s as important as what the purse is. Now we can campaign and work the horse backwards (pointing to the Champion of Champions). Scoops Dynasty ran a phenomenal race and I really thought Shott Gun ran a phenomenal race to run third. He was in front.”
It was a busy Sunday for Taylor, who spent the early part of the day at Ruidoso Downs for the trials to the Rainbow Derby before flying in just in time to be on hand for the Vessels Maturity at Los Alamitos.
“I need to give a shout out to Bobby Cox,” Taylor said. “He had two horses in this race, Shott Gun and Jettz, and he won a trial to the Rainbow (Derby) with Jeriko, a really top horse who is in the Super Derby here later (in the year). Basically, there was no possible way to be here unless Bobby provided transportation for the jockeys, myself and Rodrigo. We left there after the 15th race and we got here in an hour and 38 minutes. I’m very appreciate to him for getting us here to be able to run all three horses.”
Following the Vessels Maturity trials in which Empressum had the fastest qualifying time, Taylor said that he thought that the World Champion still had a lot of room to improve and be faster for the final.
“I still think that he’s just getting back,” Taylor said. “We just gave the one 220 work before the trials and I thought he ran a good race but he wasn’t pressured. I thought he was a little soft and he’s gotten a little fitter. The horse here is just a really good doer. He likes it here and it’s hard to keep the weight off of him, which typically is a good problem because most horses either fret or nervous or if they run that fast, they are hard to put weight on. I think he’s fitter and he looks really good. I’m glad to have him back and in shape. He came off the vacation well. We’re really tickled to get this out of the way.”
Taylor will now take a look at a good number of options regarding what is next for his superstar sprinter.
“He really likes it here,” Taylor said. “Albuquerque has a $300,000 race with no trials and the All American Gold Cup also has a lot of money. I might seriously consider running him out here in the Bank of America California Challenge Championship (on August 5) going 440 because that carries a berth to the race at Lone Star. He could potentially fly out there and fly back here. There are so many options. The main thing is to read the horse and the owners’ goal is really not to chase the money with this horse but to take care of the horse. They want him to be as good as he can be for the first Sunday in December for the Champion of Champions. If that means staying, then he’ll stay. If that means going, then he’ll go for a little while. There’s a good chance that as much as he likes it here that he will stay here.”
As for the race itself, Shott Gun had the early lead with Scoops Dynasty then moving ahead of the field to be one to catch. Sure enough, Empressum came on strong like always and the two went head-to-head for the next 50 yards before Empressum began to take control of the race.
“Empressum never breaks on top, but he always comes strong at the end,” winning rider Sigala Vallejo said. “The good thing is that he was bothered at all and he was able to run his race. At the midway point, that’s when he started dominating. He didn’t make any errors and that’s what got him here to win the race. Winning a race is always great but these are little more special.”
Ridden by Armando Cervantes for trainer Monty Arrossa, Scoops Dynasty earned $25,500 for his runner-up effort to raise his career earnings to $458,352. He’s finished in the top three in 14 of his 16 career starts. Shott Gun, who was ridden by Jose Nicasio, earned $18,000 for running third, his first loss since arriving here four races ago. He’s now earned $647,019 Ed Allred’s London Toby ran fourth, earning $10,500 in the process. Jettz, Up And Atem, Jess Being A Friend, Fortunate Corona, and Apollitical Famous V completed the field.