Trainer Denny Ekins to Retire

The longtime California-based horseman is Los Alamitos' eighth-leading all-time trainer.

Press release

Trainer Denny Ekins has announced that he will retire at the end of this year. PHOTO: Los Alamitos Racecourse

Denny Ekins, who ranks eighth on the list of all-time leading Quarter Horse trainers at Los Alamitos with 1,054 wins, has announced that he will retire from training at the end of this year.

Ekins, 70, and his wife, Vandi, will move to Montana in the spring to spend more time with their family, including son Robbie, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter, Sawyer.  

“I’ve been at Los Alamitos for 40 years, and I’ve been lucky to have been around quite a few good horses,” Ekins said. “I’m now looking forward to spending my golden years watching my granddaughter grow up. Vandi and I are so excited about that. It’s a new venture for us. It’s going to be different not having to get up at 3 a.m. to go to work, but we have a lot of good win pictures and a lot of great memories. Our granddaughter is the catalyst of it.

“I started thinking about doing this about six months ago after spending some time with them," he added. "I want to enjoy their youth. I got more serious about it in mid-October, and eventually you finally have to decide that you’ll do it. To do it at the end of the year makes it an easier transition for the 2 and 3-year-olds. The horses will have the opportunity to get acquainted with their new barns. We have great owners and I wanted to make the transition go as well as possible for them. Everyone has been very supportive of my decision.” 

Ekins added that the “wheels are already in motion” in terms of switching the current horses and future 2-year-olds in his barn over to new trainers. Some of the horses will go to the Heritage Place Sale.

“We’ve already lined up trainers for the horses currently under my care,” Ekins added.

For example, Ekins' Quarter Horses owned by Pete and Evelyn Parrella’s Legacy Ranch will go to trainer Terry Knight. Ekins’ owners include Muller Racing LLC and Dominic “Bud” Alessio.

“Owners like the ones I’ve been lucky to be around are hard to come by and we’ll miss a lot of friends in racing,” Ekins said. “They’ve been such a great part of our lives. Racing is such a fabulous sport. I can’t tell you how good it’s been to me and my family. The owners I’ve been fortunate to train for have been tremendous and I’ve been so fortunate to have been around some unbelievable horses.” 

Ekins saddled his 1,000th Quarter Horse winner at Los Alamitos, Stanley Watkins’ Sassytacs. on July 30,2013. Top runners who he trained include Muller Racing’s Ocean Runaway, a multiple AQHA champion and millionaire; Legacy Ranch’s Flying Fig, the sport's champion 2-year-old filly in 2010; Muller Racing’s Sterling Sport, the '03 distance champion; David J. Payne’s Tolltac, the 1983 champion juvenile colt; and multiple graded futurity winner Finding Nemo.

Ekins also trained world champion Cold Cash 123 to win the 2012 Go Man Go Handicap (G1). All told, Ekins won 38 stakes races at Los Alamitos, and his stakes winners include Not For Long, Waverino and Tolls Touch.   

“Ocean Runaway’s Champion of Champions year (2005) is one that stands out,” said Ekins of the horse that ran second in the Los Alamitos Super Derby (G1) before coming back in seven days to win a division of the 400-yard Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials in track record time. “It was such a hard thing to do the way we won the Champion of Champions. We were the dumbest guys in the world before the running of the Z. Wayne Griffin, and after we accomplished what we did we were the smartest guys in racing.

"Finding Nemo is another one that stands out," he added. "Charles Boyles was going through some health issues, which made it a tough time in his family’s life. That year (2005), Mr. Boyles won the Governor’s Cup Futurity with Finding Nemo and that was one of his lifelong dreams in racing.”

Boyles, who campaigned Finding Nemo along with James Azevedo, passed away not too long after the Governor’s Cup Futurity.

“It was nice that he got to see Finding Nemo win a futurity," Ekins said.

In 2004, Ekins dominated California Breeders Champions Night by saddling Ocean Runaway to victory in the Governor’s Cup Futurity and Legacy Ranch’s Not For Long to win the Governor’s Cup Derby. And before all those great stars, Ekins trained Tolltac. Ekins once described Tolltac as “the horse that helped me reached new heights at Los Alamitos many years ago.”

“Tolltac was a special horse,” said Ekins of the 1983 Golden State Million Futurity winner. “The things that he accomplished I will always remember. He was such a tremendously athletic horse.

“I’ll visit Los Alamitos and will often think of some many top owners, jockeys, trainers and horses from here,” he added. “I can’t thank my wife, Vandi, enough for being such an important part of it all. And my thanks to Dr. Allred and the wonderful Vessels family. We’ll hang on to our many memories because it’s been a special time for us.”

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