Blog: Challenge in the Mountains

Darrell Hare visits the Les Bois Challenge races.

July 10, 2012

Q Racing Blog

On my way to the Northwest Regional Challenge races at Les Bois Park in Boise, Idaho, I met my son in Denver and we drove to Delta, Colorado, for a two-day vacation of floating and fishing through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, a trip that my son gave me for Christmas. Even though I lived in Colorado for many years, I had never visited the Black Canyon, which is truly a spectacular marvel of nature. To be able to float the river and fish this 14-mile stretch of river, which is mostly Gold-Medal waters, was a fascinating experience.

Our guide had spent more than a decade navigating the numerous rapids (four or five of which are classified as No. 3+ rapids) on the Gunnison, and is also an expert fisherman who assisted us in attracting plenty of action with our fly rods. Because this river is a catch-and-release stream, we didn’t worry about limits or quotas, but were able to catch enough trout (a few that measured 17- 20 inches) to keep us busy and entertained. The entire trip was a very memorable experience.

Unfortunately, driving past the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, being aware of the fire north of Fort Collins and driving past another active fire south of Glenwood Springs certainly dampened our moods, knowing the horrible suffering and destruction being caused by these fires. The entire state of Colorado is in drought and we probably haven’t heard the last of Colorado wildfires this summer. In fact, the entire mountain sides of Vail Pass are covered with pine-beetle-infested trees, which are mostly dead and a giant tinderbox. Hopefully, there soon will be some needed rain in this area that will prevent more tragic fires.

Enough about the challenges in Colorado: Now on to the Bank of America Racing Challenge in the Intermountain Northwest. For many years, Les Bois Park was the major racetrack operating in the region, which along with numerous fair circuit tracks throughout Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Nevada, comprised a strong racing circuit for horsemen in those states. Les Bois Park was forced to cease operating approximately four years ago because of financials issues. The future of all horse racing, including the Regional Challenge races, in the Intermountain area was bleak. In 2009, the Northwest Regional Challenge races were run at Wyoming Downs in Evanston, even though the Cowboy State is not in the Northwest Challenge region.

There was considerable uncertainty about the Challenge races during this time. However, the majority of Challenge horsemen supported this necessary relocation of the Challenge races by paying the sustaining payments to run in the 2009 trials at Wyoming Downs. There were 47 sustaining Juvenile payments made for the trials from the original 64 nomination payments. The Derby numbers were also respectable in view of the uncertainty, change of location, etc. The other Regional Challenge races at Wyoming Downs were also supported by horsemen, which contributed to the success of the meet for these Challenge races.

The Northwest Regional Challenge races returned to the Northwest Region in 2010 and 2011, with the Juvenile, Derby and Distance races being run at Sandy Downs in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Jim and Melissa Bernard and the region’s horsemen, participation in the Challenge Juvenile numbers grew to 88 nominations and 59 starters. The Derby and Distance races also received increased participation from the previous couple of years. The Regional Challenge Championship race was run during the Elko (Nevada) Fair in 2010 and at Emerald Downs, near Seattle in 2011.

With the reopening of Les Bois Park for an abbreviated live horse racing meet in 2011, the Northwest Regional Challenge Juvenile, Derby and Distance races returned to Les Bois Park in 2012 with a resurgence of support stronger than when the track closed in 2008. As an example, this year we received 127 original Juvenile nominations (an increase of 44 percent over 2011) and 75 sustaining payments, compared to 113 original nominations and 66 sustaining payments in 2008. Participation in the Derby this year also exceeded the numbers received in 2008.

On a related matter, Emerald Downs received 19 original nominations to the 2012 Northwest Challenge Championships, which is a substantial increase over 2011.

In reviewing the starters in the recent Northwest Regional Challenge trials, 45 percent of the 2-year-olds were bred within the Northwest region (Idaho, Utah, Washington and Oregon), while 55 percent were bred in states in other Challenge regions. California led the out-of-region states with 13 Cal-breds, Texas had nine and Oklahoma three, with the remaining starters bred in other states, provinces and countries. This diversification of multiple state-breds competing in Regional Challenge races is very strong evidence of the importance of Challenge-enrolled horses for all owners and breeders.

As an example of the overall quality represented in these three Regional Challenge races, two of the races (Derby and Distance) featured the 2011 Challenge Championship Juvenile and Challenge Championship Distance Champions. Shez Jess Toxic, owned and trained by Dean Frey, finished third in the 2012 Derby (after winning the 2011 Challenge Juvenile) and Yin Your Eyes, owned by Rene Laatsch and trained by Bill Hoburg, won the 2011 Challenge Distance Championship and also won this Regional Distance race at Les Bois Park. The 2012 Challenge Juvenile at Les Bois Park was won by Ms Eaves, owned by Oscar Diaz, trained by Rodney Hyde and bred by Christine Hudson.

The excellent overall quality of the trial starters was evidenced by the outstanding bloodlines of the majority of the 2-year-olds. Practically every prominent stallion currently standing was represented in these races. The trials were very competitive, which produced an evenly matched field for the finals on Friday, July 6. Complete results are available on www.aqharacing.com.

In addition to the Challenge finals, a “consolation” race was held for Juvenile & Derby horses, which attracted full, competitive fields. Thanks to Bob and Scot Giltner and Kelly Spackman (local horsemen and strong supporters of the Challenge), $5,000 was added to each race, in addition to $4,000 provided by track and entry fees, for $9,000 purses in each race.

Prior, during and after the races, I received many expressions of appreciation from horsemen living throughout the Intermountain area, thanking me for the Challenge races and informing me how important the Challenge races are to them. In fact, several of these folks informed me that if it wasn’t for the Challenge, they probably wouldn’t still be racing American Quarter Horses.

In addition to the excellent night of Challenge races (two consolation races, one Bonus Challenge race and three Regional Challenge finals), I had the opportunity to observe and participate in the Regional Youth Racing Experience, headed by Clayton Russell, vice president of racing for the Idaho Quarter Horse Association, with support and counsel provided by AQHA Director Duayne Didericksen. In addition to Clayton and Duayne, Tass Heim, Charlene Cooper and Karen Palmer (representing 4-H, FFA and the Idaho Horse Council) provided leadership, along with 12 group leaders from these associations, plus 12 trainers who provided hands-on experience to the 24 participating youths. Kip Didericksen (Duayne’s son, who is retired as a five-time AQHA champion jockey and is in both the Idaho and Ruidoso Downs halls of fame) met the group at the starting gate and shared his experiences as the nation’s top Quarter Horse pilot and riding such superstars as Refrigerator and Corona Chick during his illustrious career.

Colonel Earl Lilly, who at 92 is retired from his Air Force career, joined the group in the morning and stayed for all of the activities, including the 10-race card that evening. Col. Lilly has been a very strong supporter of AQHA and Quarter Horse racing for many years, continues his involvement with Quarter Horse activities and attends as many functions as possible, including Idaho races and the AQHA convention. He is truly a remarkable individual.

My trip to Boise for the Challenge races was a refreshing reminder of how important the Bank of America Racing Challenge program is to everyone involved or interested in American Quarter Horse racing. The support and appreciation expressed by horsemen in the Intermountain area for the Challenge program and the 2012 Challenge races demonstrated beyond any doubt the program’s importance. We certainly appreciate this support.

Darrell Hare
Director of Racing Challenge