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AQHA Recognizes Special Achievements at Challenge Championships

November 19, 2010

Challenge Championships Logo

Vel Evans, Dr. Steve Fisch and the late Spencer L. Childers were honored on November 19 during the AQHA Racing Committee Lunch and Awards Ceremony at the Astor Crowne Plaza, host hotel of the AQHA Racing Conference in New Orleans. The event came hours before the start of the 18th Bank of America Racing Challenge Championships at Fair Grounds Race Course.

Vel Evans, who was instrumental in the 2010 return of American Quarter Horse racing to historic Fort Erie Race Track in Ontario, received the Mildred N. Vessels Special Achievement Award for her achievements within the industry throughout the year.

When the owners of Fort Erie, located across the border from Buffalo, New York, threatened to close the track for economic reasons, the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium was created to save live racing. The Consortium hired Evans, who has an extensive background in the equine industry, to develop a business plan that would justify a total financial commitment in excess of $6 million over three years to restore the track to its previous level of success. Evans believed American Quarter Horse racing would be an ideal product at Fort Erie, and she oversaw a successful American Quarter Horse meet that marked the first races for the sprinters there since 1977.

“The inaugural meet was very successful and will … establish the Fort Erie Race Track as a major force in expanding Quarter Horse racing in eastern Canada and the entire northeastern section of the United States,” wrote Evans' nominator.

“I have the opportunity in my work to work with horse organizations that are known around the world,” said Evans, who gave a presentation on the Ontario efforts to develop the American Quarter Horse industry minutes before she was announced as the award recipient. “This is a particular honor because there is no more professional organization in the world, in my opinion, than the AQHA.”

For spearheading the efforts to return of American Quarter Horse racing to Florida with the debut of the sport at Hialeah Park, Dr. Steve Fisch was presented the Gordon Crone Special Achievement Award.

“Many of us in the industry have worked on (American Quarter Horse racing in Florida) and talked about it for 20 years, but he is the guy who kept rolling over the rocks and clearing the path so it became a reality,” noted Fisch's nominator.

“Thank you for the award,” said Fisch, who owns and operates AVS Equine Hospital, home of six American Quarter Horse racing stallions, in Tallahassee with his wife, Kelley. “I get to take it home and look at it, but it belongs to everybody here.”

The AQHA Racing Council Special Recognition Award was posthumously awarded to Childers, who died last year at age 97. Inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2002, Childers had owned Quarter Horses before AQHA was founded in 1940 and bred horses on his farm at Fresno, California, from 1949 until his death.

Among the outstanding horses Childers bred and raced was 2004 world champion Be A Bono, who represents the sixth generation of a family that he began to develop when he purchased the gelding's ancestress, champion Black Easter Bunny. Be A Bono lives in retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions in Lexington.

Childers' grandson, David Muzio, who now manages Childers Ranch, accepted the award.

“He loved to win, but he also loved it when his friends won, even if it meant he ran second or third,” Muzio said about his grandfather. “That speaks volumes of this industry and the quality of the people who comprise it.”

During the lunch, the Bank of America Racing Challenge Champion Owner, Trainer, Breeder and Jockey also were presented. Championships were earned based on points accumulated in regional Challenge race, John Deere Bonus Challenge race or Challenge Maiden race.

Recipients were:

• Nutrena Champion Breeder Vessels Stallion Farm LLC of Bonsall, California. The farm will receive $5,000 and three tons of feed. Bonnie Vessels, widow of Frank R. “Scoop” Vessels III, accepted the award. The farm also received the honor in 2007 and 2009.
• John Deere Champion Owner Gary and Jeralyn Messenger of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Messengers will receive a new Gator utility vehicle.
• Vetrolin Champion Trainer Bret Vickery of St. George, Utah, who will receive $5,000 and a variety of Vetrolin products.
• Wrangler Champion Jockey G.R. Carter Jr., who will receive $2,000, a Tex Tan trophy saddle and a Montana Silversmiths buckle. Carter also earned the honor in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Also recognized was Hemerio Hernandez's Bad Act, who has qualified to the Challenge Championships three times – more than any other horse competing in this year's event. Bad Act, who will start in tonight's Red Cell Distance Challenge Championship (G1), was third in the race last year at Los Alamitos and second in the race in 2007.

On November 18, owners of horses competing during the Challenge Championships were honored at the Owners' Recognition Party at Fair Grounds. Owners received a souvenir bag filled with a variety of items, including a leather halter with a brass nameplate bearing their horse's name. BY AMY OWENS