Empressum, the fastest qualifier and even-money choice in a field of 10 sophomores, drove clear down the homestretch to win Saturday's Grade 1, $673,732 Ruidoso Derby at Ruidoso Downs.
Prepped by Heath Taylor for owners Jeff Jones and Steve Holt, Empressum went 400 yards in :19.338 while defeating 26-1 longshot Valiant Stars by one length and recording a 105 speed index. Rodrigo Vallejo rode the sorrel Apollitical Jess gelding.
"He was actually stepping back -- not forward -- when the gates open, so he completely missed the break," said Vallejo. "After three or four jumps, he made up for that mistake and pulled away. He opened up and gave a very strong finish."
Empressum was bred in Oklahoma by his owners, and he set a 400-yard track record when he won the eighth of 10 Ruidoso Derby trials in :19.149 on May 30.
"I’m just happy everything worked out," said Taylor. "It was a short recovery time after the trials, and we needed every single day to get him prepared.
"This horse has tremendous focus on his job and showed his ability in the last hundred yards of the final," the trainer added. "He’s special, and we’re proud and humbled to be training such a tremendous race horse.”
Campaigned in Oklahoma and New Mexico, Empressum has won eight of 11 outs and has banked $500,825, of which $438,451 has been pocketed from four wins in four starts this year. The gelding's sophomore season record includes a victory at odds of 17-1 in the April 17, 400-yard Remington Park Derby (RG2) for Oklahoma-bred 3-year-olds.
Jettz finished third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Empressum, and was followed by KJ Sonny P, Volcoms Class, Mahomes, Karl Strauss, Apollitical Redflash, Separate Sentence, and For The Irony.
Also on Saturday, Adrian Ramos rode A Dangerous Flash sprinted to a wire-to-wire victory in the 400-yard, $100,000 Ruidoso Invitational Stakes for 3-year-olds.
Trained by Todd Fincher for owners Joe Dee Brooks, Scott Bryant, and Norman W. Allen, A Dangerous Flash defeated 19-10 favorite Shott Gun by 1 1/4 lengths in :19.547. The gelded son of champion First Moonflash earned $44,094 from his first stakes win.
A Dangerous Flash was bred in Colorado by Audie and Kaye Williams. A $70,000 buy at the 2019 Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale, the gelding has won four of seven races -- including all three of his starts at the 400-yard distance -- and he has banked $71,794.
Famous Cartel Jess, B Cause Im A Hero, BV Georgy Girl, Ivorina, Miss Famous Eagle, and Packsaddle Senator completed the order of finish.
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 www.aqha.com/racing.