LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen November  24, 2017

JOCKEY ALFONSO LUJAN

FUELED BY FAMILY AND FAST HORSES

Quarter Horse jockey Alfonso Lujan is an all around good guy. Respected by his fellow riders and trainers, he is regarded as a hard-working and humble professional as well as a devoted family man. However, it might surprise people to know that he is a self-confessed "speed junkie", who loves the thrill of riding those blazing fast Quarter Horses!

Role Model

Lujan was born in Pecos, Texas and made his riding debut when he was 19. The first few years were lean, to say the least, but Lujan was never impatient in honing his craft.

"I have learned a ton," explains Lujan. "There are so many things you can do to get the best out of your horse. Each one is different; young horses, colts, fillies. We have to make split second decisions, but that's what I love about this profession."

He does not hesitate when asked which rider he most admires.

"Jacky Martin was my role model," states Lujan. "I watched his races and had so much respect for him and Jack Brooks. There was a reason he had so many accomplishments, but one thing I always admired about Jacky was his hands. He was amazing in the way he was so cool and calm on a horse; extremely focused at all times."

Lujan began on the Texas circuit, riding at Manor Downs, Sam Houston Race Park and Lone Star Park. He had his first stakes win in 2000 aboard Easy Winning Jet in the $107,000 TQHA Sires Cup Futurity at Sam Houston Race Park for trainer Lance Moore. Two months later, he added his second career stakes with a well-timed finish on Hooks Jet in the $25,000 Los Alamitos Stakes at Lone Star Park. Other major stakes wins in Texas included a victory aboard Okey Dokey Fantasy in the 2006 Manor Downs Futurity for trainer Carlos Saldivar and a nice stakes run with Snowy Alibi for Janet VanBebber. In 2006, Lujan piloted the multiple-stakes winner to several titles, including the $343,305 TQHA Sale Futurity. He and VanBebber had great success with a number of runners, most notably, Acorn, a son of Oak Tree Special, who won the 2010 AQHA Derby Challenge Championship.

Texas racing was good to Lujan. He rode for some of the top horsemen including Danny Eldridge, Kenny Roberts and Carlos Saldivar in addition to VanBebber. But, like so many Texas riders and conditioners, Lujan knew that Louisiana had more race dates and better purses. So he shifted east to ride at Delta Downs, Fair Grounds and Evangeline Downs. The move paid off; in 2005, Lujan was the leading rider by wins in the nation with 162 wins from 988 starts, one more than Cody Jensen.

Leading rider titles at Delta and Evangeline followed and in 2008, Lujan eclipsed the $3 million mark in earnings for the first time in his career.

The Injuries

Injuries are an unfortunate part of the sport and Lujan has had his share, especially in the past four years. He broke his ankle in a training accident at Evangeline Downs in 2011. Last October marked one of the worst accidents of his career, when his mount went down and Lujan suffered five broken ribs and a punctured lung. In December, his fellow riders and a group of horsemen organized a fundraiser for Lujan and jockey Eddie Cox, who was forced to retire based on the severity of his injuries. There were some rumors that Lujan was considering hanging up his tack as well.

"It does make you ponder," said Lujan. "The ups and downs of this sport can beat you up mentally, but I realized I wanted to come back. Once I made that decision, I had no second thoughts."

Devoted Family Man

Lujan, 37, and his wife, Anna, make their home in Elgin, Texas and are the proud parents of three children: Jocelyn, 10; AJ, 8 and Coltin, who is almost 3.

AJ was 2 1/2 when the Lujans noticed a delay in speech; a year later, they received the diagnosis that their oldest son was autistic. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects 1 of 68 children in the United States with males four times more likely to be affected. Anna drives her son to Austin three times a week for therapy and both parents are committed to ensuring that he has a healthy and happy childhood.

"We are lucky that AJ isn't aggressive; he is a pretty chill guy if you know how to deal with his quirks," said Anna. "Although raising AJ is a challenge sometimes, we do as much as we can physically and financially to give him what he needs to live a productive life."

Jocelyn is the "A" honor roll student and according to Anna, "a little Momma Hen" who helps her two brothers. The true racing fan of the brood is Coltin, who zealously cheers for his Dad in person or on television. He loves to ride horses and only gets upset when it's time to dismount.

Raising three children from Texas while her husband is riding in Louisiana is a huge challenge for Anna. The family spends summers together, but during the school year, Alfonso will only be able to come home two days a week. However, Anna remains positive and supportive of his career.

"Fortunately, Alfonso, is probably the best hubby God could have sent me," she said. "He works harder than anyone I know and puts in 110% for us. We love what Fonzy does and how much he loves it, just wish the logistics where not an issue. And the fear of him getting hurt was not imbedded in me."

Lujan readily admits that the hardest part of his career is being away from his family. He fully acknowledges the role that Anna plays in keeping everyone healthy and happy.

"Anna is the rock of the family," states Lujan. "I treasure her so much and can only describe her as exceptional and remarkable. When I am injured, she continues to have the will and power to get us through. We know that God put AJ in our hands because we were capable of handling the challenge. But Anna didn't just accept it, she has done the research, supports his therapy and is a loving mother to all three kids. She has knocked it out of the park."

LQHBA Sale Futurity

Lujan will ride Micmac Warrior in the $303,777 LQHBA Sale Futurity on September 5. The son of leading Louisiana sire, Heza Fast Dash, was the fastest qualifier in trials run on August 15, covering 350-yards in a swift :17.724 seconds.

Trey Ellis trains Micmac Warrior, and has a solid relationship with Lujan.

"Training these horses is a big puzzle," admits Ellis. "You have to rely on jockeys for their feedback after a race. Alfonso is super smart about each of his horses. He does his homework, watches replays, and always tells me what we need to work on to make them better."

According to AQHA statistics, Lujan has ridden over 13,000 horses in his 18-year career and is 60 wins shy of his 2,000th milestone. He has won the Evangeline Downs title five times, and perhaps he will win his 2,000th race this year. He will cherish the moment and share it with his family and fellow riders. With the exception of being away from his family, he truly loves what he does.

"It's in my blood," acknowledges Lujan. "When you have a powerful athlete beneath you, there's no describing the feeling. All I can say is that it sets my mind free when I get on a fast horse."

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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.