Donald "Curly" Smith Dies

AQHA Hall of Fame member died December 29.

AQHA Hall of Fame member Donald "Curly" Smith died December 29.

Donald "Curly" Smith, 86, a highly respected and longtime racing secretary at Los Alamitos Race Course, died on Monday, December 29. 

Inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2014, Curly was born in the racing business.

"My mother and father were both in racehorse families," said the resident of Grass Valley, California. "My father was a jockey, then became a trainer and owner. My mother's family was in the Thoroughbred racing business. Her brothers were all trainers."

After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Curly trained horses for a couple of years before becoming a jockey's agent, responsible for helping jockeys find mounts.

"I did that for four or five years, then a man called Edward Burke gave me a job at Los Alamitos (Race Course in California) in 1960," Curly says of the man for whom the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity is named.

"I became racing secretary in 1969, and it just evolved into different promotions," Curly says. "I stayed racing secretary all the time and became director of racing and then vice president of racing."

While he was serving in different positions, he remained racing secretary as well, writing races and working closely with trainers to help fill those races, one of the biggest challenges of the job.

"I always had one philosophy: If the racing commission or the state board of racing made a rule, that rule was to be followed," Curly says. "And if I didn't like the rule, then I would go in front of the racing commission and say why, but if they kept the rule, then the rule was for everybody, not just one person or one group of people."

Curly also helped create the AQHA Racing Council and served on the first American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame selection committee in 1982.

"I had a great life in Quarter Horse racing," he says. "I don't feel like I wasted one moment. I enjoyed all the people in Quarter Horse racing. Never did I go to the job one day and say, 'I wish I was doing something else.' I enjoyed my job all the way along."

He served on the AQHA Racing Council and racing committee, and is remembered by the racing industry as being strict but fair and playing a critical role in promoting and regulating American Quarter Horse racing.

"I have frequently, when faced with a difficult situation, asked myself, 'What would Curly Smith do?' " said Scott Wells, president and general manager of Remington Park Racetrack in Oklahoma City. "In most cases, that process has led me to good decision-making based on fairness and all available facts."

"Curly was a great director of racing," said Los Alamitos Racing Secretary Ron Church. "He was an integral part of making Quarter Horse racing at Los Alamitos the best in the nation. He also had great knowledge of the Quarter Horse racing industry as a whole. He was fair, but strict. I had the fortune of working for him and the lessons that I learned during that time I have carried with me throughout my tenure at Los Alamitos." 

“Los Alamitos was a very special place to him,” added Curly’s stepson, Jim Meiring. “He treated it as a special place. He always remembered his time at Los Alamitos. I worked for him and he was tough, but he also treated everyone the same way. We were all there as a family for his Hall of Fame induction. He was very fond of his grandkids and they were there for the Hall of Fame presentation. It was one of the last times we were together as a family.”

Smith is survived by his wife, Phyllis; sister, Dorothy; two adult stepchildren, Jim and Kris Meiring; Jim’s wife, Chris, and their children, Jason and Matt Meiring.

No memorial services are planned. The family will conduct a private service on Father’s Day 2015.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the American Quarter Horse Association Foundation, 2601 E I-40, Amarillo, TX 79104.

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