Home Sports Local Sports Dr. Leonard Blach: A life for the movies

Dr. Leonard Blach: A life for the movies

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In this May 2, 2009, file photo, Calvin Borel rides Mine That Bird to a victory in the 135th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. (AP File Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

As the horses passed the front stretch at the beginning of the 2009 Kentucky Derby, the little horse from Roswell, Mine That Bird, was last. Track conditions were sloppy, and Mine That Bird was bumped by two horses as he broke from the gate.

The last thing Dr. Leonard Blach, 84, wanted to happen was happening. He didn’t want to finish last at the Kentucky Derby. This race wasn’t at a small track where only a few diehard horse racing fans would see and talk about it. No. The world was watching the biggest race in the world: The Kentucky Derby was being broadcast in prime time on NBC.

“Doc” looked away, trying not to show the disappointment on his face — in case the TV cameras were watching him. The fact that he and his partner, Mark Allen — along with trainer Bennie Woolley, Jr. — were there in the first place was against all odds to begin with. The betting line put them at 50:1 to win the Kentucky Derby.

As “Doc” tried to put on a brave face during the race, he had to be thinking that no matter how things turned out, life was pretty good. His family and friends were there with him to celebrate being at the Derby.

“I was glad to have my family there,” “Doc” said. “And they (family) were glad to be there too.”

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“Doc” had come a long way from Yuma, Colorado, growing up on a horse and cattle farm. Being raised on the farm allowed him to know what he wanted to do with his life. His father and mother, Herman and Ella, owned the farm.

He grew up with his four brothers and three sisters in a town of 2,000 people, where everybody knew each other. In high school he played end in football and forward in basketball. Playing sports taught him camaraderie, discipline. His graduating class in 1952 only had 52 people in it.

“Doc” would go on to Colorado A&M, before it was changed to Colorado State. It was in English class that he would meet Joanne Fulenwider. “Doc” says that his fraternity house was across the street from her sorority house. He would ride his motorcycle all over town.

“Doc” would marry Fulenwider in 1957. They are coming up on 62 years of marriage and still going strong. They have three children. Serena, 60, lives in Seattle, Washington, she used to do mock trials. Kevin, 58, lives in Roswell and is a veterinarian, and Pamela, 56, lives in San Diego, California, and was a vet tech, now married to a veterinarian. They have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“I think that being married to Joanne for 62 years,” “Doc” said, “and raising my three children, and taking part in the lives of my grandchildren is my greatest accomplishment in my personal life. I feel like I would give myself an A as a husband and father. I could have been better, that is something I’m always working on. I think that is a big accomplishment.”

“When you go to vet school, you’re well-rounded,” “Doc” said. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in vet school. I just knew I wanted to be a vet and I wanted it to be animals. When I got toward the end of vet school, I knew I wanted to be a cow doctor or a horse doctor. When I went to Yuma, my emphasis fell toward being a horse doctor.”

Buene Suerte Equine

After graduating college in 1960, “Doc” went back to his hometown to practice. While working he met some people from Santa Fe. There were a couple of vets there, but they went broke.

“I jumped on it anyway,” “Doc” said. “I knew it was available and a lot of ranch country and I had a little horse work going. I knew it was a big opening there for me.”

Not many people know that Buene Suerte means good luck. In 1972, after relocating from Santa Fe, a lady from Houston, Texas, moved to Roswell and built a ranch and named it Buene Suerte ranch.

In the late 1980s and ‘90s the ranch disappeared during the oil crisis. “Doc” came over and used the name Buene Suerte Equine. In Santa Fe, a race track opened up and “Doc” was the race track veterinarian, he would work at Ruidoso track, and go as far as Raton to work. He had a mixed practice of race track and farm practice of horses. As he went forward in his career, he would concentrate on horses.

During his practice “Doc” would open up Buene Suerte Equine in 1986, where he would do innovative surgery and specialize in reproduction, in embryo transfer, in the late 1980s. He would do business with people from Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Colorado, California and Oklahoma.

“I look back at how we’d work all day,” “Doc” said. “Then at night, when it cooled off, we’d do our teasing. I’m talking about 7 to 8 p.m. and be out of there by 9 p.m. and go to bed. We’d work 12 or more hours a day, and I looked forward to it every day: teasing mares, collecting studs, breeding mares and working with my crew. Now I look back at what we did, and I think, ‘How did I do that?” I just really enjoyed every day of my life no matter what I was doing.’”

Meeting that would change his life

“Doc” met Allen when Allen was a horse trainer in Raton, and “Doc” worked as a vet. Allen was looking for a farm and Bubba Cascio’s old place across the street from Buena Suerte Ranch was available.

“Doc” did Allen’s vet work and often partnered on quarter horses and thoroughbreds, of which they qualified several for the All-American Futurity race. Both men wanted to race on the circuit, from the $500,000 race at Sunland Park, to a $200,000 race at Lone Star Park and the $300,000 race at Remington Park in addition to a steady supply of $100,000 stakes around New Mexico.

“Dream a little bit and your dreams will come true,” “Doc” said after winning the Derby.

When “Doc” made that statement he was referring to the media and people asking him how does it feel? “Doc” tried to explain to people that he used to feel the same thing when he would watch the Derby on TV before he won the race. Or, he would visualize his favorite team the Dallas Cowboys when they had Emmitt Smith running the ball, ‘Doc” used to pretend it was him running the ball.

Mine That Bird became America’s horse, because he was everywhere and everybody knew him. “Doc” still gets gifts from people on the horse’s birthday, May 3.

“Doc” said, “In 2009, I came back to the same job and did the same thing for the next 10 years. I did my vet work. It affected my life at the race track because I knew more people. More people recognized me, that was the big thing.”

Racing Commission

“Doc” was appointed to the New Mexico Racing Commission four years ago, by then-governor Susana Martinez. “Doc” spends a lot of time talking to jockeys and other workers at tracks all over New Mexico to get a feel for what’s needed to keep horse racing strong and honest.

“Doc” feels that racing is better than it’s ever been. The board has made adjustments as far as medicines for horses as they have tried to stamp out the fraudulent use of drugs.

The Racing Commission International sets the rules for all of horse racing.

“Doc” points out the prize money in horse racing has always been big since they had casinos. Other than Indians, the race tracks are the only casinos in New Mexico, and are known as racinos. The financial split is, the state takes a cut, the track gets a cut and horse splits the purse, with the trainer and jockey each getting 10%.

There was a time when horse racing was the No. 1 sport. One thing “Doc” wants to see happen while he is on the commission is that the public is taken care of. After the oil and gas business, tourism, the racing industry is the third largest industry in New Mexico. The racing season is year-round.

The Win

“Doc” would look up again to find his jockey Calvin Borel following trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., receiving instructions before the race to hold Mine That Bird back.

At the 1/4 pole, Mine That Bird started coming back after being 30 furlongs behind. Bird started picking off horses one by one, and at the 1/8 pole, Mine That Bird was even and leaving other horses. The only question: Would he have enough stamina and endurance to get there?

Borel moved Mine That Bird to the outside as he sped past another horse. Borel put Bird back on the inside rail as he raced past all of the other horses at the 1/8 pole to win in what the announcers would call a spectacular upset.

Mine That Bird would win by 6 3/4 lengths at the 135th Kentucky Derby. The win was worth $1,417,000. Pioneer of The Nile would finish second and Musket Man would end up third.

“I have loved every day of my life,” “Doc” said. “If I had to do life over again, I would do the same thing. I don’t regret my life. I would hope that I would have all of the blessings in this life.”

“Doc” would go on to be named Man of the Year and was inducted into the Ruidoso Downs Racehorse Hall of Fame in June 2010.

He’s also a recipient of the New Mexico Horse Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2005, and in 1977 was New Mexico Quarter Horse Man of the Year

“Doc” has lived a life that only the movies would believe.