Q-Racing Blog: Legends Lost

The industry says goodbye to two legends.

Q-Racing Journal

The industry lost two legends this week.

It is impossible to overstate the influence that Suzanne Jones and Charley Smith have had on Quarter Horse racing. Suzanne died on December 5 and Charley died on December 7. Suzanne was 91 and Charley was 85.

They are each in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Suzanne and her husband, Punch, are the only wife-husband pair to be separately inducted in the AQH Hall of Fame. Suzanne, Punch and Charley are all in the Ruidoso Downs’ Racehorse Hall of Fame.


Suzanne Jones was involved with every
aspect of the industry. PHOTO: Ty Wyant

The Jones family has been ranching about 10 miles west of Tatum, New Mexico for nearly a century. If you go east of Tatum, the next stop is Texas.

Having lunch a few years back at their ranch, Suzanne could look across the table at your eyes and you could tell that she saw more than the overwhelming majority of people. She really cared when she said, “I can tell that you’ve seen a lot.”

It was the same with horses. She saw more in a horse than the average horseman. There are many horsemen who have made millions of dollars with their horses who never know as much about the horse’s point of view as Suzanne.

“She was connected to the horse in a way that would be hard to explain,” close friend and Ruidoso Downs’ chaplain Darrell Winter said. “She was a Christian and every time I talked to her about spiritual matters, she always related it to the horse.”

Suzanne was on the University of Arizona rodeo team, showed horses for virtually her entire life, trained international jumper Nautical (star of the movie The Horse With The Flying Tail), was a respected judge, won a show jumping class at Madison Square Garden, was a member of the United States Equestrian Team, started the New Mexico 4-H Horse School and helped build the Jones’ breeding operation through their foundation mare Maroon (TB). The blue hen mare is now represented by the seventh generation of her descendants, including stakes winner Kia Won. The gelding was racing at the stakes level last summer.

Charley was a Los Alamitos fixture and will always be a major part of the track’s lore. He lived just a few miles from Los Alamitos in Anaheim and died in his sleep in that home.

Charley Smith with Jet Deck.
PHOTO: AQHA File Photo

“Choo Choo” Charley is best known as the only jockey to ride legendary world champion Jet Deck. He also won the 1963 All American Futurity with Goetta, the 1961 Los Alamitos Championship with Pap, the 1983 running with Jet Deck and the 1967 running with Toy Spur. He won the Los Alamitos Derby with Jet Deck, Goetta, Toy Spur and Truly Night – all within six years. He was the leading rider at Los Alamitos 11 times and “the man” in the jock’s room. His honors have been related in many recent stories.

“Charley was a great rider,” contemporary jockey and friend Cliff Lambert said. “I think I first met him when I went back to Stroud (Oklahoma) to ride a futurity in 1960.

“He was as good as there was getting away from the gate and a hard worker. I remember that he was really smart. He knew how to read a horse and do what was needed.”

Upon his retirement, Charley stayed at Los Alamitos as the carpenter and do-anything, go-to guy. He was always around and more than willing to tell a tale about his historic career, or anything else. Talking to Charley brought a smile.

“I called (Charley) about every week,” Lambert, the winning jockey for the first All American Futurity, said. “He’s been in bad shape. He was a great guy.”

Prayers go out for their wonderful, supportive families. Thank you for your selfless care.


*A note from Wrangler Ace Martha Claussen:

Countdown for G. R.: G. R. Carter Jr., the all-time leading jockey in American Quarter Horse racing, is winding down his three-decade long career this month.  The 47-year-old will compete in this Saturday's $600,000 Champion of Champions (G1) at Los Alamitos and will likely ride the final race of his career a week from Saturday at Evangeline Downs.

Carter's mount in the Champion of Champions is Dashin Brown Streak, a 5-year-old son of Hotdoggin, who was voted Remington Park's 2015 Horse of the Meeting. Owned by the estate of CW Navarre and Melvin Hatley, he won both the Grade 1 Leo Stakes and Remington Park Championship for trainer John Brasseaux. Paul Jones has been overseeing his training at Los Alamitos.

"Paul says he's doing really well," said Carter. "It's a great field, but I know he's capable if he runs his best race."

Next Saturday, Carter will travel to Opelousas, Louisiana, to ride Valeriano Racing Stables LLC's The Valiant Prince in the $100,000-added  Evangeline Futurity. He qualified the California-bred son of Valiant Hero for trainer Cindi Keeton in trials on November 27.

Carter announced his retirement plans earlier this year and is looking forward to a holiday skiing vacation in Ruidoso, New Mexico, with Shaena, his wife of 23 years. An ardent supporter and board member of the Jockeys' Guild, Carter has given back to the Quarter Horse industry and will be missed by a legion of horsemen and racing fans. Born in Oklahoma, he began his career at Blue Ribbons Downs 31 years ago.

"I rode my first race when I was just 16 in Salisaw (Oklahoma)," recalls Carter. "Recently, a fan came up to me and said 'I saw your Dad ride at Blue Ribbon Downs in 1984. I just laughed and told him 'that was me'. That's how long I've been doing this!"

Open Me a Corona Poised For Six: It takes a special horse to win five stakes in a row and on Saturday at Fair Grounds, Open Me A Corona will attempt to close out his career with a victory in the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Classic Stakes (RG2).

The Louisiana-bred son of Coronas Leaving You is owned by Charles Forbes Jr. and Tommy Hays and has won 11 of his 13 career starts under the capable care of trainer Bobby Martinez. He will face six rivals in the 440-yard Classic, the first of three Quarter Horse stakes on the 13-race card at Fair Grounds on Saturday. 

Open Me A Corona broke his maiden at Evangeline Downs in trials for the 2012 LQHBA Breeders Futurity and earned $445,000 as the winner of the seven-figure stakes. His 5-year-old campaign has been flawless with five consecutive stakes, beginning in February with a victory in the Mr Jess Perry at Louisiana Downs. His most recent score was November 14 when he drew off by 2 lengths in the 400-yard, $50,000 Opelousas Stakes at Evangeline Downs.

"He just does everything right and is a very sound horse," said Martinez.

Martinez has trained some exceptional horses in his career, including world champion Oak Tree Special. On Saturday, he will bid farewell to Open Me A Corona who will stand stud at Robicheaux Ranch in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana in 2016.

"It looks like he has locked up champion stallion honors, but we hope we go out with a win," said Martinez.

Wrangler Racing Aces in December: Wrangler Racing Ace Denis Blake chronicled some great history on the Grade 1, Champion of Champions for the December issue of HorsePlayer.now magazine. 

Martha Claussen will be heading to Fair Grounds on Saturday, December 12 for Louisiana Champions Day.  The stakes-filled card begins with three Quarter Horse championships and continues throughout the afternoon with some of the top Louisiana-bred Thoroughbreds competing on both turf and the main track.

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