Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship Qualifiers

Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship Qualifiers

Reigning world champion Empressum leads the way into the February 18, $144,950 final.

Empressum. PHOTO: Los Alamitos Racecourse

text size

Empressum, a 5-year-old son of Apollitical Jess and the sport's reigning world champion, is the fastest qualifier to the February 18, $144,950 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship (G1) at Los Alamitos Racecourse.

Racing in the first of two trials on Sunday, Empressum covered 400 yards in :19.472 while defeating second-fastest qualifier Scoops Dynasty by a nose. Heath Taylor trained and Rodrigo Vallejo rode the homebred gelding for owners Jeff D. Jones and Steve A. Holt.

Empressum was bred in Oklahoma, and he was making his first start since December 10, when he scored a wire-to-wire, 1 1/4-length victory in the 440-yard, $750,000 Champion of Champions (G1), the sport's richest race for older runners. The gelding has won 18 of 24 starts -- including nine of 10 at the 400-yard distance and five of six at Los Alamitos -- and he has earned $1,625,525.

“We went back and forth for about three weeks on whether or not we would start the horse here or give him a break after the Champion of Champions," Taylor said. “We were lucky enough to get a trial win.

"(Vallejo) said that he kind of lost focus or kind of just looked away a little bit," the trainer added. "He didn’t break any whatsoever; it's the worst he’s ever broke. He said he was beat a full length as soon as he hit the ground. He said he warmed up good, felt good and finished good. He’ll have to get back to his ‘A’ game to win the final.”

Empressum was also the sport's champion 3-year-old in 2021.

Scoops Dynasty was ridden by Armando Cervantes for owners Edward and Von Zae McNelis and trainer Monty Arrossa. The homebred 4-year-old son of champion Fdd Dynasty has won seven of 13 starts and has banked $413,698, and his two graded stakes wins in 2022 included the Los Alamitos Winter Derby (G1).

Third-fastest qualifier Apollitical Pence won the second heat by a half of a length in :19.617. Armando Cervantes rode the 7-year-old Apollitical Jess gelding and two-time Champion of Champions winner for owner Dunn Ranch and trainer Monty Arrossa.

Click here for a complete list of qualifiers. Click here for a more detailed recap of the trials.

AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHA Racing on Twitter, "like" Q-Racing on Facebook, and visit