The Quarter Horse race that every owner, breeder, trainer and jockey wants to win is Ruidoso Downs’ signature event, the All American Futurity.
Run over 440 yards every Labor Day, the All American Futurity gained its lofty status through unique financial cooperation between the track and horsemen. Ruidoso Downs contributes “added money” to start the race’s purse, and then horse owners make payments to keep their young horses eligible. Many of these payments are made before the horse ever starts in a race.
This system made the All American Futurity the world’s first $1-million race for any breed of horse and enabled the All American to become the first $2-million race in Quarter Horse racing. Now the All American Futurity has a purse of $2.4 million and is the richest race for a two-year-old of any breed in North America.
Two races are considered the forerunners of the All American Futurity and both have their roots in Ruidoso. In 1946, a local watering hole called the Central Bar & Grill was having a marketing problem: How could the owners promote the casino located in the back room of the establishment at a time when casinos weren’t legal in New Mexico? The answer was to create a horse race and name it after the bar. The resulting Central Bar & Grill Futurity was an important race until the early 1950s when it disappeared, but it left a model for a successful event that continued as the Ruidoso Futurity (a different race than the current Ruidoso Futurity). That early version of the Ruidoso Futurity received widespread attention in 1955 when Go Man Go suffered his first defeat in the race.
In 1953, Gene Hensley bought a majority share of Ruidoso Downs and began looking for new ways to promote the track. Offering the richest race in Quarter Horse racing would surely define Ruidoso Downs. Along with Carl Mercer — who had developed a successful futurity in Southern California — and Ruidoso musician and promoter Ray Reed, Hensley created the All American Futurity. When it was inaugurated in 1959 with a purse of $129,686, the All American Futurity was the richest race ever held in Quarter Horse racing. The winner was the filly Galobar, who gave owner Hugh Huntley and trainer Newt Keck the first of their three wins in the first five runnings of the race.
Since then, many great performances have marked each decade of the All American Futurity. In 1969, Easy Jet captured the All American for breeder, owner and trainer Walter Merrick during a campaign in which the colt won 22 races in 26 starts and was named world champion. Easy Jet became the first All American winner to sire an All American winner when his daughter Easy Date won the race in 1974.
In 1978, the All American Futurity became the world’s first million-dollar horse race. The race also launched the fortunes of trainer Jack Brooks and jockey Jacky Martin, who teamed up to win with Moon Lark. Since then, Brooks and Martin have become the trainer and jockey with the most All American victories.
Another historic performance came in 1981 when Special Effort won the All American Futurity and became the first horse to capture the Triple Crown at Ruidoso Downs. Special Effort remains the only horse to sweep the three classic futurities held every summer at the track.
Refrigerator’s All American Futurity win in 1990 came at the start of a legendary career in which the gelding won a record three consecutive runnings of the Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos Race Course and earned two world champion titles.
In 2004, DM Shicago scored his first important victory with his All American Futurity win. The gelding returned the following summer to win the Ruidoso, Rainbow and All American derbies on his way to being named world champion.
Records continue to fall. In 2006, No Secrets Here set a stakes record when he raced the 440 yards in :20.88. Then, in 2008, Stolis Winner won the All American Futurity and was named that year’s overall world champion. Jerry Windham’s homebred Stolis Winner went on to break Refrigerator’s all-time earning’s record.
The All American Futurity continues to grow. In 2013, the All American Futurity is expected to reach the $2.6-million mark and reset the record as the world’s richest quarter horse race.