Q-Racing Blog: Sunshine in the Sunshine State

Dr. Steve Fisch is a guiding light in Quarter Horse Racing.

Q-Racing Journal

Dr. Steve Fisch brings sunshine to the Sunshine State.

There wouldn’t be as much sunshine in American Quarter Horse racing if it wasn’t for Dr. Steve Fisch DVM.

Fisch, 59, stepped down as president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association last month after leading the organization for 10 years during the resurgence of Florida Quarter Horse racing. That growth came primarily with the winter meet that is held at Hialeah Park. Ron Smith is now the FQHRA president.

The seventh Hialeah season runs through February 29, with $140,000 in average purses per day. The seven years of racing has paid out $30 million in purses, and has broken its daily handle record several times already this season.

“Our biggest challenge was to keep everyone focused on bringing Quarter Horse racing to Florida,” Fisch said. “I was reading the other day that in any worthwhile endeavor there will always be dips in the road and to work through them. I was just the quarterback. We have good owners and breeders, and AQHA really helped.”

An innovative accredited Florida-bred program has been instituted. Out-of-state mares can be bred to Florida-based stallions and the resulting foal can become an accredited Florida-bred racehorse. Thus, the mare never needs to travel to Florida. The semen can be shipped to breed the mare. This year the first running of the Sunshine State Derby for Florida-breds will be held on February 27 with a $200,000 guaranteed purse.

 
 Steve and Kelley Fisch. PHOTO: Andrea Caudill

Fisch estimates that about half of the mares bred to Florida stallions are out-of-state mares. “It exposes stallions to top mares. We’ve had champions and top mares from California, Texas, Oklahoma and other states,” he said. This leads to more Florida-bred foals to race in Florida and provide a larger number of horses to fill races while improving the Florida-bred gene pool.

Complimenting the Florida-bred breeding program are awards of up to eight percent of the top-four placing horses’ purse share for the owners, breeders and stallion owners.

Looking just at the 2015 champion contenders, one sees horses such as Florida-bred Premier Ethics, who won 8-of-9 and earned $291,161. Other finalists like Moonin The Eagle, Seize The Win, Politicaly Correct and Daytona B all raced successfully in Florida during the year.

The team that Fisch helped build includes a close relationship with Florida Thoroughbred organizations. He is a close friend of Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association president Bill White.

“We also have strong relationship with the Florida Thoroughbred Owners’ and Breeders’ Association,” Fisch said.

Those two Thoroughbred organizations and the FQHRA formed the United Horsemen of Florida in 2011. Then, in 2014, the United Florida Horsemen invested more than $75,000 in an economic impact study to show the economic importance of horse racing in Florida and throughout the United States. You can bet that Florida politicians know of their existence and influence.

Fisch says that marketing is racing’s challenge moving forward.

“Everywhere we need to market,” he said. “We need to make it an enjoyable experience for people to come to the track. The fans at Hialeah get so excited when the Quarter Horses race past them.”

It’s not like Fisch is heading off into the Sunshine State sunset. Far from it. The Gordon Crone Special Achievement winner will still handle legal, legislative and administrative efforts for the FQHRA. He is also a national AQHA director, a member of the AQHA Racing Council, a member of the AQHA Racing Committee and runs his Flying Fisch Farm, which has bred runners with average earnings per starter of nearly $26,000. His veterinary practice, AVS Equine Hospital, is the sole medical and surgical referral hospital within 150 miles of his home in Tallahassee, Florida, and houses some of the state's leading sires. The stallion roster includes, among others, world champion and millionaire Wave Carver.

As a youngster, Fisch tried his hand at being a jockey – he started riding on local non-pari-mutuel tracks when he was 11 – and then graduated from the University of Georgia with his DVM degree.
 
This overachiever is married to Kelley and they have four successful children.

Fisch says he “was the lucky guy to be the quarterback,” but it can be argued that football is one of the few true team sports. LeBron James or Stephen Curry can take over an NBA game. Last year’s Cy Young Award-winning pitchers Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel can shut down opposing hitters.

 However, try to win a Super Bowl without an exceptional quarterback. About half of the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks who are eligible for Hall of Fame induction are in the Hall of Fame. And Fisch quarterbacked one of the biggest stories in Quarter Horse racing over the past decade.

OTHER NEWS

*A note from Wrangler Ace Martha Claussen:

 
Brix Hadley and BV Midnite Express.
PHOTO: Courtesy Amanda Buchanan-Hadley

New Year, New Opportunity: Amanda Buchanan-Hadley will make her official training debut on Saturday at Louisiana Downs

She is the daughter of Iris and John Buchanan, who has been a prominent Quarter Horse conditioner for over three decades.  While he never had a massive stable, John had his share of graded stakes winners and enjoyed a victory in the All American Futurity (G1) in 1997 with Elans Special.  He turns 65 this month, and last August, decided he was ready to retire.

Amanda graduated from the University of North Texas, earning her B.A. in general studies. Her areas of interest included business, art, dance and health, but her passion remained with the family's horses. She assisted her father at Sam Houston Race Park and Remington Park, and was very hands on with 2014 champion distance horse Wahoo. 

The Buchanans have several homebreds and still have strong bonds with owners Sylvia Shaw Pittman and Marcy Bentley. When the opportunity came to go out on her own at Louisiana Downs, Amanda was game.  She was given 14 stalls at the Bossier City racetrack.

"This will be fun for me," said Amanda. "It's a family affair and we have some really nice horses."
Of course, she is in very close contact with her dad, who according to Amanda, is both an excellent "horse hauler" and an exceptional advisor.

Amanda is married to jockey Russel Hadley, and is hopeful that he will ride for her at some point this meet. For opening weekend, she has tabbed Raul Ramirez, Jr. and Donell Blake.

"Russ has such a good thing with 'Bubba' Willis and will be breaking babies in Oklahoma," explained Amanda. "But he will get down here quite a bit."

The Hadleys are proud parents of daughter, Brix, who at 14 months is very active, totally fearless and already very comfortable around horses.

"We have the cutest photo of her with BV Midnite Express," said Amanda of the Grade 1-winning juvenile.

 
Alfonso and Anna Lujan and their beautiful children 
Jocelyn, AJ and Coltin. PHOTO: Courtesy Lujan family

Birthday Twins: How many married couples, or even family members share the same birthday? It is a fairly rare probability, but jockey Alfonso Lujan and his wife, Anna, were both born on January 3.

"When we first began dating in 1996, and the birthday conversation came, I honestly thought he was fibbing,” said Anna. "It wasn't until I actually saw his I.D. and he saw mine that we really believed each other.  I always joke that if he ever forgot my birthday we would be having issues, but it hasn't happened yet!"
 
The couple, who reside in Elgin, Texas, have three children, Jocelyn, AJ and Coltin.

 AJ was 2 1/2 when the Lujans noticed a delay in speech; a year later, they received the diagnosis that their oldest son was autistic. Anna drives her son to Austin three times a week for therapy and both parents are committed to ensuring that he has a healthy and happy childhood.

Raising three children from Texas while her husband is riding out of state is a huge challenge for Anna. The family spends summers together, but during the school year, Alfonso will only be able to come home two days a week.

Lujan does love what he does, but readily admits that the hardest part of his career is being away from his family. He fully acknowledges the role that Anna plays in keeping everyone healthy and happy.

"Anna is the rock of the family," states Lujan. "I treasure her so much and can only describe her as exceptional and remarkable. When I am injured, she continues to have the will and power to get us through. We know that God put AJ in our hands because we were capable of handling the challenge. But Anna didn't just accept it, she has done the research, supports his therapy and is a loving mother to all three kids. She has knocked it out of the park."

They spent their birthday on the road with their children as they returned from holiday celebrations. Lujan has already departed for Louisiana Downs. He finished 2015 ranked 19th in AQHA standings for races won.

Wrangler Racing Aces in January: Visit the Q-Racing Aces page on Facebook or follow them @HorseRacingAces on Twitter for timely updates on Quarter Horse racing across North America. The Wrangler Racing Aces are following the horses, jockeys, trainers and milestones at Los Alamitos, Sunland Park, Hialeah Park as well as Louisiana Downs.

AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHARacing on Twitter, “like” Q-Racing on Facebook and visit www.aqharacing.com.