Q-Racing Blog: Decisions

It's time for Denny Ekins to move on.

Denny Ekins leaves a long legacy in Quarter Horse racing.

Some of life’s big decisions may, of the surface, seem difficult. However, they become easy decisions.

This is the case of Denny Ekins retiring from training after starting, officially, in 1972 with two wins and his stable banking $3,358.

“It was strictly a family decision,” said Ekins, 70. That’s directly related to the most recent addition to the Ekins clan, 4-year-old Sawyer Ekins. Sawyer is the granddaughter of Denny and his wife Vandi. Sawyer’s father is Robby Ekins, Denny’s son, and his wife Carime.

Robby’s family lives in Montana. So Denny hung up the tack after winning 1,274 races, mainly at Los Alamitos. Denny and Vandi are heading from their Southern California home to their future home in Helena, Montana.

They bought a six-and-one-half-acre place with home, indoor arena and a barn. So there will still be horses in the Ekins family’s future. You can bet that Sawyer will always have a fine ride. Plus, she will learn how to care for a horse from an expert – grandpa. The Ekins-trained horses have always been finely groomed and raced in excellent condition. He did it the right way.

“It’s been a great game,” said Ekins. “I’ve been at it a long time. Sawyer is 4 and it’s time to get involved in their lives.”

It is no surprise that Denny and Vandi are choosing family over racehorses. That’s an easy decision.

If they wish, they could decorate their new home with win photos and memorabilia earned by some of the great horses racing in the sport’s most important races.

Ekins started training in Utah and the horse that got him down I-15 to Los Alamitos was Sunset Canyon Ranch’s Silvertown, a 1972 daughter of Old Pueblo (TB). Ekins started her career in Utah, they went on the California fair circuit and ended up at Los Alamitos for the 1974-75 winter meet. She was second in the Las Chiquitas Handicap at Los Alamitos and third in the Golden State Derby at Bay Meadows.

Then came the horse that pushed Ekins career into the upper-tier of trainers – Tolltac.

“He was a tough little horse to train,” said Ekins. “But, when he was in the gate, he was all business. He made $1 million when it was hard to make $1 million.”

He won 12 of 18 starts with four second-place runs and earned $1,143,043. Tolltac, a son of Beduino (TB), was a champion at 2 and 3. At 2, he raced to Grade 1 wins in the Bay Meadows Futurity, Kindergarten and Golden State Futurity. At three, he added Grade 1 wins in the Golden State Derby and the El Primero Del Ano Derby.

Ocean Runaway was another Ekins-trained colt that was a champion at 2 and 3. He became a millionaire at 2 with Grade 1 wins in the Los Alamitos Million Futurity and the Golden State Million Futurity. He also won the Restricted-Grade 1 Governor’s Cup Futurity. At 3, he won the Grade 1 Champion of Champions, Grade 2 PCQHRA Breeders’ Derby and his Grade 2 Z. Wayne Griffin Director’s trial.

An elegant son of First Down Dash and broodmare of the year Runaway Wave, Ocean Runaway concluded his career with an amazing three-race run. He was second in the Los Alamitos Super Derby as the 1-5 favorite and did not get that race’s invitation to the Champion of Champions. Since he was sound and set to retire at the end of the season, Ekins and owner Gary Muller decided to run Ocean Runaway the following week in the Z. Wayne Griffin Director’s Trials to earn the coveted Champion of Champions invitation.

“People said we were crazy,” said Ekins. All Ocean Runaway did was win his Director’s Trial with a new Los Alamitos track record of :19.305 for 400 yards. They went from crazy to genius with the help of a great horse.

Ocean Runaway was the 19-10 favorite in the Champion of Champions and closed his career with a one-half length win in the 440-yard classic. The $250,000 he earned in the Champion of Champions placed his career earnings at $1,642,498.

There were many more horses who gained national prominence under Ekins’ care. They include Grade 1 winners Finding Nemo, Dash On A Mission, Not For Long, Waverino and Dashin Dee Dee. He saddled Cold Cash 123 and Eastex for Grade 1 wins when they were in his barn.

Ekins was blessed with longtime owners — who he sincerely appreciates — and they provided him with top-shelf stock. He was always an excellent steward of the horses under his care. The results are evident with success at the highest level.

The horseman provided several ideas to improve the sport. First, to make racing a more enjoyable experience for the patrons and everyone involved with the sport. Second, try to indoctrinate more young people about the sport and entice them to get involved with Quarter Horse racing.

If those young people are like Denny Ekins, then the sport has a bright future.

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