36th Annual Darley Awards Recognizes America’s Best for Arabian Racing

27 March 2023, Texas ~ The 36th Annual Darley Awards, presented by the Arabian Racing Cup (ARC) and sponsored by the Texas Arabian Breeders Association, took place on Friday evening, March 17, 2023, at Sam Houston Race Park, just outside Houston, Texas. The evening celebrated USA Arabian racing’s best for 2022, ultimately crowning eleven horses and individuals as Darley Champions.

The $40,000 Darley Sprint (G2) kicked off the evening’s festivities with a dramatic finish by two stablemates. Ten-year-old Quick Sand AA, crowned Darley Horse of the Year in 2019, settled early in a stalking position, while three-year-old Diamond Gem AA, crowned the 2022 Darley Horse of the Year later that evening, remained in the group of frontrunners. They both entered a strong drive and pulled away together. Both gamely dug into the deep, muddy track, but it was the veteran who pulled ahead in the final strides to win by a neck under jockey Rodolfo Guerra. This was Quick Sand’s 44th lifetime start, and 19th win. He was trained by Jerenesto Torrez for breeders/owners Joe & Betty Gillis of Allegro Arabians, who also bred and owned Diamond Gem AA.

Following the Darley Sprint came the $30,000 Darley Distaff (Listed) for females, where we witnessed RS Jewel Crown bring her 2023 record to 2-for-2 in a tremendous last-to-first effort over RB Blair Hope under jockey Jose Alvarez for trainer Nicole Ruggeri, who owns the filly with her husband, Andres Ruggeri.

Guests then proceeded to one of the track’s private suites for dinner, followed by the Darley Awards ceremony hosted by Greg Thompson.

The ARC extends its congratulations, once again, to the following Darley Award winners of the 2020 racing year:

DIAMOND GEM AA: Darley 3 Year Old Colt/Gelding of the Year

PEARLS SPIRIT AA: Darley 3 Year Old Filly of the Year

FOUR HUNDRED PROOF AA: Darley 4 Year Old Colt/Gelding of the Year

DREAMM: Darley 4 Year Old Filly of the Year

LIKE MOULIN ROUGE: Darley Older Horse of the Year

UPTOWN LADY ARABELLA: Darley Older Mare of the Year

JOE & BETTY GILLIS: Darley Breeder of the Year

JOE & BETTY GILLIS: Darley Owner of the Year

JERENESTO TORREZ: Darley Trainer of the Year

ANARDIS RODRIGUEZ: Darley Jockey of the Year


This year’s Horse of the Year was particularly remarkable because it was won by a three year old… a feat that hasn’t been accomplished five times in the 26-year history of the Darley Awards, and not since 2009 when the superstar filly Sand Witchh won the prestigious title first a three year old and then again as a four year old the following year. The outstanding Diamond Gem AA shows similar sparks of potential greatness, and his undefeated three year old campaign included three starts that all showed impressive upward trends with every race, including two graded stakes races against older company. It is also worth noting that his full sister, Pearls Spirit AA, won Darley 3 Year Old Filly of the Year as well, demonstrating the proven nick between their shared cross of Burning Sand onto the Seyvilla Triumph daughter, Triumphs Pearl.

Owner and breeder of Diamond Gem AA, Pearls Spirit AA, and Four Hundred Proof AA is Joe & Betty Gillis of Allegro Arabians, who enjoyed a remarkable year on the track with their homebreds, ultimately concluding in a remarkable 40% win percentage and $244,429 in earnings that unsurprisingly earned them breeder and owner titles at this year’s Darley Awards as well.

While the Gillis’s are ever humble about their success, Joe is quick to light up about his Horse of the Year.

“He’s really a great horse,” said Gillis. “I think he’s the best horse – at this point at his age – that we’ve ever bred. Time will tell because he’s so young. But we’re grateful for every moment, and give him all the credit. He’s one of those horses that comes along every decade. Maybe longer.”

Stallion Auction

Even after the Darley Awards concluded, the excitement continued with the final hour of bidding in the ARC Stallion Auction, which featured ten breeding lots of world-class Arabian racing sires including:

Assy, donated by Al Shahania Stud
Easter Man, donated by Allegro Arabians
General, donated by Haras Du Grand Courgeon
Grilla, donated by Billie Glosser
Hilal Al Zaman, donated by Al Nujaifi Racing
Mared Al Sahra, donated by Al Shahania Stud
Marid, donated by Haras Du Grand Courgeon
RB Burn, donated by Al Asayl France SC
Sir Bani Yas, donated by Al Asayl France SC

The popular breeding auction consistently raises significant funding that goes to support the ongoing programs of the Arabian Racing Cup, including the ARC Breeders Incentive Program and the Darley Awards. It was the ideal conclusion to wrap up an exciting Darley Awards day, celebrated by Arabian racing enthusiasts throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

“There isn’t a more important celebration of the USA Arabian racehorse and its people than the Darley Awards, and this year was no exception,” said Jon Henningsgard, Chief Steward of the Darley Awards’ Arabian Racing Cup (ARC) and owner Uptown Arabians located just outside Dallas, Texas. “It was a day full of inspiration, fun, excitement, and renewed passion that came from reliving moments and being reminded why we do what we do, regardless of winning a Darley award, or not. It’s what we strive to do.”

The 37th Annual Darley Awards will return to Houston in 2024.

~end AJC