AQHA Special Achievement Award Winners

Denny Ekins, Russell Harris, Loretta Brasher and Dr. Steve Burns were recognized during the AQHA Racing Champions ceremony.

Denny Elkins is one of three individuals honored for their hard work in the racing industry.

Each year, the American Quarter Horse Association recognizes the hard work of several individuals in the racing industry. This year, the AQHA Racing Council Special Recognition Award goes to Denny Ekins and Russel Harris; the Mildred N. Vessels Special Achievement Award to Loretta Brasher; and the Gordon Crone Special Achievement Award to Dr. Steve Burns.

Trainer Denny Ekins retired at the close of 2016 with a legacy to be proud of.

Retiring among the top 25 all-time leading trainers by money earned, and the eighth all-time conditioner at Los Alamitos, the horseman trained horses that have won 1,274 races and earned more than $13.8 million.

Among the great horses he has trained are champions Tolltac, Ocean Runaway, Flying Fig and Sterling Sport.

Ekins, 70, and his wife, Vandi, are moving to Montana to be closer to their family.

Russell Harris' career as a trainer dates back to 1972 and this year wraps up a stellar career. During his tenure, he conditioned earners of more than 17 million, including nearly 1,500 wins, 34 of which were stakes. His protégés included Champions Florentine and Calyx, among others. Russell enjoyed success in several jurisdictions, having saddled horses in California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and other states.
In 2015, he was inducted into the Ruidoso Race Horse Hall of Fame. In addition to his success as a trainer, Russell has held an active role in AQHA by serving on the Race Committee, being a member of the racing council and serving as an AQHA director. Like his good friend and hunting buddy Denny Ekins, Russell and his wife Brooke look forward to spending more time with their grandchildren during his retirement.

Arizonan Loretta Brasher is recognized for her tireless efforts to help racing in her state, exemplifying the true spirit of Millie Vessels in doing whatever it takes to promote the industry.

As the executive director of the Arizona Quarter Racing Association, Brasher wears many hats. The Arizona native helps to raise money and run programs, such as the AQRA Scholarship fund, stallion service auction, state-bred program and more. She keeps horsemen informed on important issues and represents them in industry meetings, promotes racing in press and social media, and, in many ways, is the face of Arizona racing.

Even while struggling with the loss of her beloved husband, Wayne, who passed away in 2015, Brasher last year helped coordinate programs, worked with the chaplaincy program, worked to protect horses and horsemen when an EHV-1 outbreak occurred at Turf Paradise, helped organize rallies to support Rillito Park, organized and conducted two youth days at Arizona tracks and fundraisers to help injured riders.

“Anyone close to Arizona Quarter Horse racing will tell you that Loretta Brasher is without question the backbone of the racing program in Arizona,” said her nominator. “Whether it is on the fairs, or at Turf Paradise – if the horses were racing Loretta was there in 2016.”

Dr. Steve Burns of Menifee, California, is an influential member of the racing community in many ways. The owner of Burns Ranch, he stands some of the country’s premiere stallions. He is also part owner of the Los Alamitos Equine Sale and participates in all major Quarter Horse sales throughout the country.

Also a top owner and breeder, he has raced the likes of Grade 1 winning homebred Little Talks, and bred horses that have earned more than $12.6 million. These include 12 stakes winners last year; and he was named the Nutrena Racing Challenge Leading Breeder.

Dr. Burns is an AQHA director, racing committee member, member of the racing medication task force and serves on the board of the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association.

The aforementioned awards are determined by AQHA’s Racing Council. During champion selections, the Champion Selection Committee has an opportunity to recognize members who they feel deserve accolades. The committee used this authority to grant special recognition breeders awards to Fredda Draper of of Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, and Weetona Stanley of Madill, Oklahoma, both breeders of top racing American Quarter Horses for decades.  

Draper bred and owns Jenuine Joy, dam of champion Imperial Eagle and Grade 2 finalist Political Mess.

Stanley last year bred six stakes winners, led by Restricted Grade 3 winner First Prize Denim and, in partnership with W.E. Smith, was the breeder of Grade 1 winner Apolltical Chad.

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