Wrangler Racing Aces Blog

The envelope, please!

Wrangler Racing Aces

The AQHA racing champions will be announced on January 18.

Nerve-wracking Moments for Prospective AQHA Champions
By Martha Claussen

The Quarter Horse racing industry will have their version of the Eclipse Awards on Wednesday, January 18 when the 2016 AQHA Racing Champions will be announced. The presentations will take place at Heritage Place in Oklahoma City, beginning at 5 p.m. (Central).

The awards will include top Quarter Horse champion in Mexico, Canada, 2-year-old, 3-year-old, aged and distance horse.  Honors will also be bestowed to champion breeder, owner, trainer and jockey for 2016.  Of course, the biggest award is the announcement of AQHA world champion, based on votes from a national selection committee.

In Hollywood, actors frequently state that it is “an honor just to be nominated”. Same holds true for the AQHA Champions, but it does not make the weeks leading up to the ceremony any easier on the nerves or stomach!

Jockey G. R. Carter Jr, the all-time leading quarter horse jockey with 3,803 wins and purses exceeding $70 million, has been honored as AQHA Champion Jockey ten times.

“It means a great deal to be named champion,” admitted Carter. “It was a goal that I set for myself a long time ago as I believed that in our industry, it’s better to have a résumé than be another great rider with potential.”

He won his first title in 1993, and was honored again in 1997, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012.

“After I had won the first couple, it took a lot of pressure off,” added Carter. “But, there were four to five where I wasn’t sure who was going to win. Those were nail biters, for sure!”

There was probably no one more surprised than Dana Stroud, who owned 2014 AQHA world champion, JRC Callas First with her husband, Brian.

“We had no idea he would even be considered, but after he won the Zia Park Championship (his seventh win of the year and second Grade 1), Judd (Kearl) texted me and said our horse would be up for world champion,” recalled Dana. “I had no idea what he was talking about.”

JRC Callas First finished fourth at the Championship at Sunland Park, so the Strouds put any champions talk on the back burner.  However, after they received an invitation to the ceremony at Heritage Place, Dana allowed herself to think about the prospect of winning the sport’s most prestigious honor.

“I was a nervous wreck,” she stated. “We debated if we should even make the trip to Oklahoma City and I called all kinds of people to see what they thought. Rob Werstler and Melba Riedel both encouraged us to go, so we booked our flights and arrived that afternoon.”

JRC Callas First was named champion aged gelding and aged horse. The Strouds remained on the stage, joined by the connections of (3-year-old champion) Moonist and (2-year-old champion) Kiss My Hocks to await the announcement of 2014 world champion.

“It was cold and rainy that night, but I was sweating profusely,” recalled Dana. “When they said his name, I burst into tears and almost fell backwards into the flower arrangement. Chris Kotulak reminds me of that every time I see him!”

The Strouds have been married eight years and the honor was life-changing for both of them. Brian’s stable tripled the next year and the earnings of their champion allowed them to make many enhancements to their home and training center in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

“I watch the DVD and still cry,” said Dana. “Honestly, it’s the highlight of my life as I had always dreamed about owning a racehorse. To have one of yours win and be honored as world champion is unbelievable.”

On Wednesday night, the Quarter Horse world will watch and eagerly await as the 2016 AQHA Champions are announced. It is certain to be an incredible moment for the each of the connections: nerves, tears and all!

Handicapping Analysis: Zulu Dragon-Sired Runners Top Shue Fly Qualifiers
By Jonathan Horowitz

Zulu Dragon was the AQHA’s leading first-year sire for money earned by his offspring in 2016.  The 10-year-old stallion sired by First Down Dash, the all-time leading Quarter Horse sire by earnings, and out of Grade 1-winning dam Hidden Dragon will be represented as sire by three of the four fastest qualifiers in Sunday’s 400-yard, $205,960 Shue Fly Stakes (RG2) for New Mexico-breds at Sunland Park.

Magnifico Dragon, with Mauro Salcedo aboard, qualified fastest in 19.709 seconds with a 1 3/4-length victory in the fourth of five trial races on December 23.  Running Dragon was the second-fastest qualifier in a 1 1/4-length win in the fifth trial in 19.749 seconds ridden by Adrian Ramos.  Those two horses finished first and second, respectively, in the 400-yard, $314,358 New Mexico Classic Futurity (RG2) at Zia Park on October 30.  Mighty B Dragon was the fourth-fastest Shue Fly qualifier in 19.919 seconds in a second-place finish under John Valenzuela to third-fastest Flash Em the Jewels in the second trial.

Zulu Dragon was one of only two first-year U.S. Quarter Horse sires in 2016 with two stakes-winning offspring.  Magnifico Dragon won the New Mexico Classic Futurity, and Running Dragon captured the New Mexican Spring Futurity at Sunland Park and Mountain Top Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.  They combined for $627,979 of the $699,236 that Zulu Dragon’s progeny earned in 2016. 

Zulu Dragon led all first-year sires by earnings in 2016 with just nine starters, five of whom were winners.  By contrast, sire Big Daddy Cartel was in second place with $524,459 in earnings from 15 winners out of 37 starters.  Zulu Dragon commands New Mexico’s highest stud fee of $6,000 in 2017 standing at Bar Y Equine, according to StallioneSearch.com.

Magnifico Dragon and Running Dragon will eyeball each other breaking from the two outside post positions on Sunday.  Although they are expected to be heavy favorites as the two stakes winners in the field of 10, the 2016 Shue Fly went to longshots with 18-1 Carson City Girl defeating 20-1 My Mojito.  In the 2017 field, A Sure First has won two in a row since finishing third in the New Mexico Breeders’ Futurity.  First Kool Moon was second to Magnifico Dragon in the Shue Fly trials but won three in a row prior to that effort.

Wrangler Racing Ace Jonathan Horowitz’ Top-Four Selections: 
#9 Magnifico Dragon
#10 Running Dragon
#3 A Sure First
#1 Flash Em the Jewels

Wrangler Racing Aces in January
Visit the Q-Racing page on Facebook or follow the Aces @Q-Racing 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, Louisiana Downs, Sunland Park and Turf Paradise.
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AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHA Racing on Twitter, "like" Q-Racing on Facebook, and visit www.aqharacing.com.