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It’s hard to put anything past William Leech, Alberta’s perennial quarter horse trainer. But even he was wonderfully openmouthed when Destello De Luna was named Canadian champion last week.
“It was quite a surprise - a nice surprise. I’m pretty shocked,” said Leech, who trains the Alberta-bred for his wife Jane and daughter, Haley Moreno. “There were a couple of other strong contenders from Ontario,” he said of the award announced at the AQHA Racing Champions ceremony in Oklahoma City.
Destello De Luna won or placed in all six of his starts in Alberta. Two of those starts were victories at Century Mile - in the Alberta-bred Futurity Trial when he ran 350 yards in a quick 18.045 seconds and then in the $67,000 Final when the dark brown colt charged from well back getting home in the last strides by a nose in 18.167.
The running line of the Final succinctly said “flew late.” “He’s always been a good gate horse but maybe a little too nice. He breaks a little tardily,” said Leech. ‘Breaking tardily’ for a quarter horse is usually akin to climbing Mount Everest in tennis shoes. But not for Destello De Luna.
“He likes to run on strong at the end,” said Leech. “He was sixth after the break but he was still only a length and a half off the front end so he still had position.”
After watching the race Leech didn’t even think Destello De Luna had won. Even after watching the replays a bunch of times Leech didn’t think the then-two-year-old had gotten up in time. After running 300 yards in his first four starts - when he had three seconds and a third - Leech said the extra 50 yards made the difference.
Having now turned three-years-old, Destello De Luna will now get to run even a little farther which Leech said bodes well for the horse’s future. “He’ll get to run 400 yards now - maybe even a little longer - which will really help.”
As well as the added distance being instrumental in the Alberta-bred Futurity Final Leech said Destello De Luna wasn’t “a hundred per cent” the first two times he raced resulting in a couple of close misses at Century Mile when his late charge left him three parts of a length back in second in his June 11 debut and then third in his third-place finish on July 2.
“He got a virus in the spring and was just getting over it,” said Leech. “By the end of July he was coming around to himself and he finished second in two races at Grande Prairie in August.”
When September rolled around, Destello De Luna was really ready winning the Futurity Trial on Sept. 4 and the Final on Sept. 19 back at Century Mile to bring his season earnings to $47,515.
With his wife and daughter owning the horse, Leech said it’s a ‘real family affair’ because the horse’s jockey, Ricardo Moreno is Haley’s husband.
The old saying is ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,’ but Destello De Luna’s connections certainly don’t abide by that old saw given that the horse was a gift from one of William’s main clients Chuck Stojan.
“Chuck told my wife and daughter to pick a yearling out of the 2020 Alberta Quarter Horse Sale at Red Deer and he would buy it for them. “Jane Haley both liked Destello De Luna and Chuck signed the ticket for the horse for $4,600.
“Obviously, it turned out to be a really nice gift,” said Leech, whose dad was also a quarter horse trainer. The first colt to race by freshman sire Lethal N First, Destello De Luna is out of breeder Ken McFarlane’s mare, A Mere Toast, who he bought in California as a broodmare.
“I’ve had a lot of success running horses for Ken; I’ve bought quite a few from him. He’s got a really good breeding program,” said Leech, who has also had a lot of success with Stojan, who raced horses like the mare Toughie, who won a couple hundred thousand, and the sensational Free Thought, who won a world record 18 straight races from June 10, 2017 all the way to Sept. 4, 2020. The winning streak easily eclipsed the mark set by Snowbound Superstar of 15 consecutive wins in 2009.
“Toughie won a lot of races for us including three or four in California. She even made it to the $1 million Futurity. She ran fifth in the Final but it was a hell of a thing just to qualify.
“Free Thought is now retired,” said Leech. “He’s out at Stojan’s ranch at Sexsmith - just outside of Grande Prairie - in a big fancy paddock enjoying life.”
This year Stojan won a bunch of races again including the $34,021 Derby with Flight Club and the Cup Classic Maturity with Getit Foose - both at Century Mile this summer.
This is the fifth time that Leech has trained the AQHA Racing Canadian Champion. The first was Destiny Road in 2001 who was followed by I’m The Win, Royal Quickwind and then Poutn On The Wagon in 2016. Leech said that each title came 'with a big fancy belt buckle'. “This year my daughter and my wife got a fancy bronze for winning it. It’s a pretty nice deal.”
But then Leech, who keeps a stable of 14 or 15 horses, has a habit of winning races. Training quarter horses since he was 19, Leech, 61, it’s easier to count how many times Leech hasn’t been Alberta’s leading trainer than to calculate how many times he has won it.
“I’ve been training horses for over 40 years and I’ve only lost it five or six times,” said Leech proudly. The reason for his success? “I’ve always had really good owners giving me really nice horses. I’ve always had good riders too. Like Ricardo, who has been riding in Canada for 10 years after coming to Alberta from Mexico. He does all the galloping and 90 per cent of the riding.
“And I’ve always had a really good staff like Haley, who works with me. “It all makes it work together hand in hand.
Destello De Luna has a chance to be the best of all of the horses Leech has trained. “He’a a super nice horse. “He’s quiet in the paddock, quiet in the gate and quiet in the barn. “He acts likes he’s seven-or eight-years-old. Nothing seems to spook him. He’s not going to get beat by doing something stupid and leg wise he’s never had any trouble. And, like I said, the extra distance he’ll be running this year is only going to help him.
“Haley, Jane and Ricardo have had a lot of fun with him. “We’ll start his spring training sometime in February at my farm just south of Lethbridge and get him ready for this year.”
Leech plans on keeping Destello De Luna in Alberta - at Century Mile and at Grande Prairie. “That’s the plan anyway. With a little luck and planning, he should come back as a really nice three-year-old.
“He’s not a real big horse but he’s well balanced and well put together. “It’s early but he’s been a real honest horse.”
“You bet.” You bet indeed.
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