LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen July  21, 2024


On a day to day basis, our success or failure is rarely measured in a time span of twenty seconds or less. However, in Quarter Horse racing, having a fast enough time to qualify for a major futurity can guarantee a memory that will last forever.

On Friday, November 15 at Evangeline Downs, breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and racing fans will be eagerly watching the final times for each of the LQHBA Louisiana Million trials.

At the end of the evening, the connections of ten horses will celebrate and begin preparations for the December 7th final and what could be one of the most cherished nights of their lives!

Challenge for Young and Established Trainers

AQHA and LQHBA champion trainer Kenneth Roberts, Sr. has won six editions of the race, formerly named the LQHBA Breeders Futurity and two since it became a million-dollar stakes in 2012.

Roberts vividly remembers the LQHBA Louisiana Million victories in 2013 with Ol Time Preacher Man and again in 2017 with You Drive I Fly.

"Ol Time Preacher Man was a real laid back horse," said Roberts. "He didn't start rolling until August in the LQHBA Sale Futurity trials. You Drive I Fly had been off since running in the Lee Berwick final. We got him in shape on the Aquatred, but he came back better that we hoped for."

The process of developing young 2-year-olds is filled with challenges, but the rewards far outweigh the disappointments.

"It never gets old," stated Roberts. "Building a bond with these babies is something I love. It's hard to describe the thrill when they give you everything they have at the right time."

Justin Powell is a young trainer hoping to get a taste of what Roberts has feasted on throughout his storied career. The 33-year-old horseman from Knowlton, Louisiana began this year with seven in his barn and currently has 30 horses in training. He's hoping for a solid trial performance from Prize Angel, a filly by First Prize Doc, who ran in trials in the Lassie Futurity at Delta Downs and will make her fifth career start in the LQHBA Louisiana Million trials.

"She was turned out for two months and has come back very well," said Powell. "It boils down to taking care of the horse and keeping her calm on trial night. We just hope for a clean break and maybe a little luck!"

Powell has been involved with horses since graduating high school, serving as an assistant to Heath Taylor, before going out on his own. He is very clear on what it would mean to qualify for a seven-figure futurity.

"It would be a life-changing experience, for sure," he stated. "You watch major stakes on TV and feel the excitement. If you are in this business, you want to win the big races."

Preparation the Key for Jockeys

You would think that nerves might play a part in the role of the jockey, but not for veteran Quarter Horse rider John Hamilton.

"You can overprepare," he acknowledged. "I'm guilty of that!"

The 55-year-old rider does, however, stick to a few essentials in preparing for big trial days.

"I watch a lot of replays; sometimes up to five times and make notes on each horse," said Hamilton. "Also, Heath Taylor taught me how important of a role the warm up plays."

He shared his experience on 2016 LQHBA Louisiana Million winner Tf Racee Runaway. Owned by Tate Farms and trained by Lanny Keith, the son of Sir Runaway Dash set the seventh-fastest qualifying time.

"He won his trial easily," recalled Hamilton. "When you are on a horse that doesn't have to give his all in the trial, you have a lot of confidence going into the final."

This will be third time that 24-year-old jockey Noe Castaneda will compete in trials for the LQHBA Louisiana Million. He came close last year, guiding Dasha Blue, at odds of 35-1, to a second-place finish for owner/trainer Eduardo Morales.

"She wasn't mentally ready in the early part of the year," explained Castaneda. "She set the sixth-fastest time in trials and we headed to the final knowing that Mpshinning was the horse to beat. She broke badly, but once I corrected her, she came running Toward the end of the year, you know which of your horses can get the distance."

Castaneda has just been riding professionally for four years and has earned the respect of many of the top conditioners in Louisiana. He's won the 2017 Lassie Futurity with Jls Dash N Fire and the 2018 Delta Downs Derby with Featuring Fast Jess, but is hungry for a victory in the rich LQHBA Louisiana Million.

"Winning the final would mean so much to me," acknowledged Castaneda. "It has been a goal since I began riding. "I've been in the final twice; every year I am getting closer!"

Hopes and Dreams for Breeders

Donald and Jetty Lemaire own Lemaire Running Horses in Gueydan, Louisiana. They have been breeders and owners since 1985 and know, firsthand, the thrill of seeing their homebred compete in the state's richest Quarter Horse futurity.

"We are proud to have had two horses run in the LQHBA Louisiana Million," said Donald. "In 2014, we qualified Lrh Jack Black. He ran ninth in the final, but my wife and I were still thrilled to see our hard work result in a horse who competed in a million dollar race."

Lemaire studies pedigree with a passion and had an opportunity to buy Drh Jamin Jackie, the dam of 2018 LQHBA Louisiana Million finalist, Lrh Mojo Rising. She was bred to champion stallion Heza Fast Dash and Lemaire sensed "Mojo Rising" was special from an early age.

"He was a plain looking horse, but was a pistol right from the beginning," he explained. "We sent him to Trey Ellis, who did a great job for us and the horse kept getting better and better."

Lrh Mojo Rising was the fourth fastest qualifier last year, running fifth in the final.

"He broke on top, but began lugging and got passed by a few horses," said Lemaire. "Jetty was nervous, but we were both proud of his effort. He's very sound and will run in trials for the LQHBA Breeders Derby (on November 16)."

"Even though we have not won the Million, Jetty and I were ecstatic to see our hard work result in having two of our horses make the final," he added. "It was a pretty big high for us!"

"We salute each of the connections in supporting the LQHBA Louisiana Million and the incredible horses bred in Louisiana," said Bruce Salard, LQHBA executive director. "The trials are such an exciting part of the Evangeline Downs live racing season and we know we will see ten very talented juveniles in the December 7th final."

For both the seasoned veterans and rising stars, the month ahead will be special for everyone who has a stake in the richest race of the year.

"I'm 55 years-old and have already won two futurities this year," stated Hamilton. "Believe me, it is always exciting!"

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.