Denny Ekins, the 8th all-time leading conditioner at Los Alamitos Race Course with 1,054 Quarter Horse wins, has announced his retirement from training to take place at the end of this year.
Ekins, 70, and his wife, Vandi, will move to Montana in the spring to spend more time with their family, including son Robbie, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter, Sawyer.
“I’ve been at Los Alamitos for 40 years and I’ve been lucky to have been around quite a few good horses,” Ekins said. “I’m now looking forward to spending my Golden Years watching my granddaughter grow up. Vandi and I are so excited about that. It’s a new venture for us. It’s going to be different not having to get up at 3 a.m. to go to work, but we have a lot of good win pictures and a lot of great memories. Our granddaughter is the catalyst of it.
“I started thinking about doing this about 6 months ago after spending some time with them. I want to enjoy their youth. I got more serious about it in mid-October and eventually you finally have to decide that you’ll do it. I will call it a career at the end of the year. To do it at that time makes it an easier transition for the 2 and 3-year-olds. The horses will have the opportunity to get acquainted with their new barns. We have great owners and I wanted to make the transition go as well as possible for them. Everyone has been very supportive of my decision.”
Ekins added that the “wheels are already in motion” in terms of switching the current horses and future 2-year-olds in his barn over to new trainers. Some of the horses will go to the Heritage Place Sale. “We’ve already lined up trainers for the horses currently under my care,” he said.
Quarter Horses owned by Pete and Evelyn Parrella’s Legacy Ranch will go to trainer Terry Knight. Ekins’ owners include Muller Racing LLC and Dominic “Bud” Alessio.
“Owners like the ones I’ve been lucky to be around are hard to come by and we’ll miss a lot of friends in racing,” Ekins added. “They’ve been such a great part of our lives. Racing is such a fabulous sport. I can’t tell you how good it’s been to me and my family. The owners I’ve been fortunate to train for have been tremendous and I’ve been so fortunate to have been around some unbelievable horses.”
Ekins saddled his 1,000th Quarter Horse winner at Los Alamitos courtesy of Stanley Watkins’ Sassytacs in the second race on July 30, 2013. Top runners that he trained included Muller Racing’s millionaire and multiple AQHA Champion Ocean Runaway, Legacy Ranch’s 2010 AQHA Champion 2-year-old filly Flying Fig, Muller Racing’s 2003 AQHA Distance Champion Sterling Sport, David J. Payne’s 1983 AQHA Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Tolltac and multiple major futurity winner Finding Nemo. Ekins also saddled World Champion Cold Cash 123 to victory in the 2012 Go Man Go Handicap. Other of his top stakes winners over the years include Not For Long, Waverino and Tolls Touch. Ekins has won 38 stakes races at Los Alamitos.
“Ocean Runaway’s Champion of Champions year (2005) is one that stands out,” said Ekins of the horse that ran second in the Los Alamitos Super Derby before coming back in seven days to win a trial to the Z. Wayne Griffin Directors Trials in a 400-yard track record time before capturing the Champion of Champions. “It was such a hard thing to do the way we won the Champion of Champions. We were the dumbest guys in the world before the running of the Z. Wayne Griffin and after we accomplished what we did we were the smartest guys in racing. Finding Nemo is another one that stands out. Charles Boyles was going through some health issues, which made it a tough time in his family’s life. That year (2005) Mr. Boyles won the Governor’s Cup Futurity with Finding Nemo and that was one of his lifelong dreams in racing.”
Boyles, who campaigned Finding Nemo along with James Azevedo, passed away not too long after the Governor’s Cup Futurity.
“It was nice that he got to see Finding Nemo win a futurity.”
One year earlier, Ekins dominated California Breeders Champions Night by saddling Ocean Runaway to victory in the Governor’s Cup Futurity and Legacy Ranch’s Not For Long to take the Governor’s Cup Derby. And before all those great stars, Ekins trained Tolltac. Ekins once described Tolltac as “the horse that helped me reached new heights at Los Alamitos many years ago.”
“Tolltac was a special horse,” said Ekins of the 1983 Golden State Million Futurity winner. “The things that he accomplished I will always remember. He was such a tremendously athletic horse.”
“I’ll visit Los Alamitos and will often think of some many top owners, jockeys, trainers and horses from here,” Ekins added. “I can’t thank my wife, Vandi, enough for being such an important part of it all. And my thanks to Dr. Allred and the wonderful Vessels family. We’ll hang on to our many memories because it’s been a special time for us.”