Lone Star Park 2023

Quarter Horse Challenge Championships.

RTIP’s Gianna Rinaldo checking out the entries.

The AQHA invited students from the Race Track Industry Program to attend the Challenge Championships at Lone Star Park. After a 5am wakeup call on Friday morning, we headed to the track where we were partnered with an AQHAYA high school student and were assigned a trainer. I worked with Kie Mushinski, a trainer with over 40 years of experience and quite a sense of humor. Kie quickly explained that he was the trainer and his wife Donna was the breeder and the owner. The name of every horse they breed and train starts with Dm after his wife. Kie introduced us to two horses he was running in the Challenge Championships, a maiden named Dm Bella Star and a gelding named Dm Moonpie.

We then participated in the AQHA Racing management meetings, where I heard an interesting StrideSAFE presentation on how this technology can help prevent breakdowns. This presentation expanded my practical knowledge about StrideSAFE as Rillito Park used the system this year. We went to the races on Friday night, which kicked off with an optional claimer for Arabians, the only race to not feature Quarter Horses over the two days. We are quite familiar with the Arabian breed given they make up the majority of the horses at the University of Arizona’s Al Marah farm. In the paddock, we met Rhonda Tuley and the two horses she had running – Honey Proof and Fleet De Sand. She invited us to the winner’s circle if either horse won. Lucky for us, Honey Proof galloped away to a clear victory. We proudly stood in the winner’s circle photo and instantly fell in love with Rhonda’s horse. She was more than happy to talk to us for a good hour after the race as well. After we parted, I decided to look up Rhonda’s Equibase profile and saw one of the best Thoroughbreds she trained was named Samurai Cause. We quickly realized that Samurai Cause was out of Hinder, one of the four broodmares owned by the RTIP. What a small world! Friday ended on a spectacular note when Dm Bella Star broke her maiden and I was able to join in the winner’s circle photo.

AQHA Chief Racing Officer Janet VanBebber meets with students at the Challenge Championships.

The following day Donna Mushinski took us to the Arabian barn so we could see Honey Proof again. He was happy with the attention, with lots of petting and kisses from his new fan club. We then headed to brunch where Janet VanBebber and legendary track announcer Ed Burgart introduced the connections for each of the Challenge Championship runners. Following an afternoon break we headed back to Lone Star for the marquee event. We met with Janet VanBebber and learned about her career path from horse trainer to AQHA Chief Racing Officer. We then toured the facility, watching how the stewards communicated and used replay equipment to make proper judgments. From there it was on to the photo finish and the announcer booth.

We spent the night cheering on all the horses that we met the previous two mornings. It was an amazing two days of Quarter Horse racing full of memories we will all cherish, along with a new Arabian horse that we all fell in love with. — Nathan Klein