Racing


Empressum Joins A Ransom As Three-Time Winners Of The Vessels Maturity
Empressum, under champion jockey Rodrigo Vallejo, won his third Grade 1 $150,000 Vessels Maturity at Los Alamitos Sunday night.

William Zuazo
Empressum Joins A Ransom As Three-Time Winners Of The Vessels Maturity

LOS ALAMITOS, CA–JULY 7, 2024–Steve Holt and Jeff Jones' champion Empressum joined the great A Ransom in the history books of Los Alamitos Race Course after winning the Grade 1, $150,000 Vessels Maturity for a record-tying third time here on Sunday night.

Empressum and A Ransom are the only horses to win the Vessels Maturity three times.

A Ransom, the 2020 AQHA World Champion, won this 400-yard race in 2000, 2001 and 2002, while Empressum has now won the Vessels Maturity each of the last three years.

An AQHA World Champion as well, Empressum has now won seven graded stakes races at Los Alamitos, six of them being Grade 1 stakes events. In his career, Empressum has won 23 of 33 starts and the $63,000 he earned in the Vessels Maturity took his career bankroll to $2,083,623.

This was Empressum's first start since running second to Flash Bak in The Championship at Sunland Park on January 7.

Winning trainer Heath Taylor, Tracy Taylor, and jockey Rodrigo Vallejo accept Empressum's third Vessels Maturity(G1) stakes trophy and blanket. © William Zuazo

The Vessels Maturity has been a special race for Empressum. It was his first Grade 1 stakes victory upon his arrival to Southern California for the summer of the 2022. His arrival was marked by scintillating wins here, first in the trials to the Vessels Maturity and then in the final when he covered the distance in :19.32, the third fastest time in the history of the Vessels Maturity.

Empressum would go on to win the Grade 1 Go Man Go Handicap and then the Grade 1 Champion of Champions on the way to being named AQHA World Champion in 2022.

Empressum's first Grade 1 victory last year came in the Vessels Maturity in an even faster time of :19.30. He would then win the Grade 2 Bank of America Los Alamitos California Challenge and then the Grade 1 Robert Boniface Los Alamitos Invitational Championship. The Holt and Jones-bred runner would conclude the year with a second-place finish to Flash Bak in the Champion of Champions.

Two years after his first sensation Vessels Maturity win, the son of Apollitical Jess was dominant once more, this time winning the race over a field that included Grade 1 winners Jeriko and London Toby. Ridden by Rodrigo Vallejo and trained by Heath Taylor, Empressum broke nicely and then powered ahead of early leaders Lawless Wallace and London Toby and then easily held off Jeriko to win for the 10th time in 14 starts at the Orange County oval.

The 6-year-old's winning time of :19.372 is remarkable in that all three of his Vessels Maturity wins have been in a time of under :19.40. Vallejo and Taylor have teamed up to win all three runnings of the Vessels Maturity with Empressum.

Vessels Maturity winner Empressum and jockey Rodrigo Vallejo enter the Los Alamitos winner's circle.
© William Zuazo

"You get up and do this seven days a week all your life and you just don't get a horse like this," Taylor said. "I'm running out of superlatives. The horse is coming off a five-six-month layoff, he's coming in without a gate work, I can just go on and on and on. He's an incredible horse and just keeps going. I think the rest and spreading the races out is a key.  I don't have a lot of words. I thought my other horse, Jeriko, ran a phenomenal race. He's a great Grade 1 horse. He ran really well and he's a 440 horse as well. I'm just blessed and the first thing that comes to mind is thankful. You don't get horses like this.

"One of the whole keys when the horse first came out here those 24 months ago is that we thought we had a really special horse after his derby year and we wanted to prolong the career of the horse and make the horse last. I think (Los Alamitos) does as good a job or better than anyone as far as the surface and the safety rules. When you're blessed to get a horse like this now, although you have to have money to pay the bills, it's not about the money, it's about the horse, as long as he enjoys it and is running at the top level. When we first came out, we wanted to try to program his career somewhat to Refrigerator on how they managed him, not necessarily in the same races. That's been the prototype.  I don't know exactly where, but he's starting to get into the top echelon and to talk about some of the few best horses that's ever ran."

Taylor always felt that the great Empressum from 2022 and 2023 would show up for the 2024 Vessels Maturity. And the rest he enjoyed at Taylor's ranch in Louisiana was important.

"In his last two races last year, he was really tired. He kind of freshened up when we stopped for The Sunland Championship on the way home. They went :20.94 (at 440 yards) so it's not like he ran bad race. I thought the horse was just a little bit tired. After he went home and since he came back, we've done some different stuff and I tell you the horse has been an absolute monster. The turn and works he's had here at 220, he's just been so impressive. He's been almost running off the racetrack. You never know until they break and get away clean, but he's touted himself that he was going to run a big race."

Taylor will consider races like the All American Gold Cup at Ruidoso Downs and the Albuquerque Fall Quarter Horse Championship. Empressum could also just remain at Los Alamitos.

"The ultimate goal is to have the horse as good as he can be for the Champion of Champions," Taylor added. "I know he'll have less races this year. The purse in the Vessels Maturity is nice and it's another Grade 1 race, but getting a berth to Champion of Champions early was important. Now we can work backwards from the Champion of Champions."

The winner of the Vessels Maturity earns a presumptive berth to the Champion of Champions, which this year will offer a $700,000 purse.

Bobby Cox's Jeriko, trained by Heath Taylor and ridden by Jose Nicasio, earned $25,000 for running second to take his career earnings to $898,772.

Ed Allred's London Toby, who was saddled by Scott Willoughby for trainer Gabriel Lara, earned $18,000 for running third.

They were followed by Lawless Wallace, Dont Sass KVN, Edberg Verde, Normandy, Terrific Phoenix, Don Lazaro and Jess Being A Friend.

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For more info' please contact larace@losalamitos.com. Follow us on Twitter or Instagram at @losalracing or visit us online at www.losalamitos.com.