Gay Harris   Ruidoso Downs Race Track
Gay Harris Ruidoso Downs Race Track (null)

LAS CRUCES >> "It's my peace," Norma Alvarez said, as she peered across the Lazy A Horse Farm, with its open organic fields, tidy indoor stables and horses grazing in deep green grass.

Alvarez arrived at the 52-acre farm, located in La Union, with a racehorse mare and its baby 19 years ago. Before long, she was housing her horses and horses for a few friends, and soon after raising Handsome Jack Flash, a gelding who would go on to win the All American Futurity, held at Ruidoso Downs Race Track on Labor Day.

Norma and her husband of 22 years, Dosi Alvarez -- a third generation farmer from La Union -- had horses qualify to run the All American Derby, also held in Ruidoso Downs earlier this month, and the Futurity, which, at $2.6 million, is the richest quarter horse race for 2-year-olds in North America.

Niki Rhynes   For the Sun-News
Niki Rhynes For the Sun-News (null)

Handsome Jack scored the upset victory and is just the third New Mexico-bred horse to win the All American Futurity, according to the New Mexico Horse Breeder's Association. The others were By By JJ in 2003 -- who was trained by Handsome Jack's trainer, Juan Gonzalez -- and Real Wind in 1976. Alvarez said the winning moment was made even more special when New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was at the race to present the winning trophy.

According to Ruidoso Downs, Handsome Jack was timed at around 21 seconds for the quarter-mile race, earning $1.3 million for the first place finish-- the richest in the stakes' 55-year history, according to the NMHBA. Alvarez said 10 percent of the winnings went to the trainer, 10 percent to jockey Jaime Parga Leos and the rest was divided evenly between Handsome Jack's owners -- Alvarez, her friend of more than 20 years Debra Laney, and her sister-in-law Brenda Alvarez.

The three women decided to partner on their first racehorse, New Mexico-bred Gonna Cha Cha, last year. The horse won the Zia Futurity and All American Juvenile Stakes in Ruidoso in September 2012 before dying of colic -- pain in the stomach -- shortly after.

The death was devastating to the trio, but they decided to try again on a dark-colored colt out of champion First Moonflash, who was raised at Lazy A Farm, and a mare owned by Laney.

Niki Rhynes   For the Sun-News
Niki Rhynes For the Sun-News (null)

"When Debra (Laney)saw the handsome baby for the first time at Lazy A, she said this was her All American winner," Alvarez said of Handsome Jack Flash. "We were like, 'yeah, ok' at first because it is such a big dream. She must have told me that 50 times. She always believed it."

And that belief became reality when Handsome Jack took the victory, going in at 8-1 odds.

"We felt that if he got out of the gate good, we could win with his tremendous kick late in the race," Alvarez said. "It (winning) was surreal. It's the ultimate dream and we accomplished something huge and felt celebratory."

Niki Rhynes   For the Sun-News
Niki Rhynes For the Sun-News (null)

Alvarez said her share of the winnings will be "gobbled up by the farm" and equipment needs at the facility.

"This was a fun thing. Brenda (Alvarez) had never owned a horse and likes the races and wanted an adventure. And it has been an adventure," Alvarez said. "One horse has affected so many lives, it's unbelievable. People say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a state to raise a racehorse."

And New Mexico has reason to be proud of its four-legged professional athlete.

"New Mexico-bred horses have not been highly regarded, but can run with the best of them," Alvarez said. "This is New Mexico's professional sport."

Alvarez said the owners plan to take Handsome Jack to the All American Derby -- reserved for 3-year-olds -- next year, and until then, intend to continue their long-standing business of raising and selling high-quality racehorses.

"I wanted to make a living with horses, so I studied all disciplines and found which one with horses could make money and found market breeding for racehorses," Alvarez said.

Why racehorses?

"I like the speed events and the immense amount of power and top speed from start to finish (in races)," she said.

The farm is home to between 50 and 60 racehorses at a time. All horses are exercised, groomed and allowed to graze year-round in the farm's organic fields, as well as given minerals to supplement their diet.

"We believe in natural feeding. We try to use nature to grow big, strong horses. We've always had good luck with it," Alvarez said.

Horses at Lazy A are taken to the Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale, which is considered the best in the nation because of the quality of quarter horses accepted into the sale.

The farm employs college and high school students to help around the farm, as well as assist during sale time.

"It brings me great satisfaction and I enjoy it so much," Alvarez said of her work on the farm, where she's helped birth baby racehorses, and watched them go on to what she describes as "great things".

"I work on it (the farm) all the time. It's my peace. There's a saying that goes, 'the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man'," she said.

Matlin Smith may be reached at 575-541-5468.