Year Inducted: 2018
A 10 time seasonal training leader at Remington Park, Eddie Willis of Caney, Okla., has been a force in American Quarter Horse racing in Oklahoma, and beyond, for decades.
Willis came to horse racing naturally as his father was involved racing Quarter Horses. While it would eventually become his full-time occupation, Willis worked in construction and home-building for many years prior to a total commitment to horse racing.
Willis began training in 1977 with a small operation. As business picked up and more success took place, his stable evolved. Jockey Ron Childers was an early associate with Willis, riding first call for him in those first years. The pair would compete around Oklahoma at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Midway Downs in Stroud, Ross Meadows in Ada and even out of state at Trinity Meadows west of Fort Worth, Texas.
Remington Park opened in 1988, presenting Quarter Horse racing for the first time in the summer of 1989. Willis raced at Remington Park from day one but the piles of victories were not there for him at the beginning. Willis saddled three winners that first summer with Savannah Launch getting his first Remington Park score on June 2, 1989, ridden by Childers.
The wins would continue to trickle in for Willis at Remington Park. He finally cracked the top 10 in the trainer standings, finishing with 11 victories in the 1994 season. In the mid-1990s fortunes started to change, for the better.
Willis developed My Debut for owner C.R. Potts. My Debut won 11 races before being sent to AQHA Champion trainer Blane Shvaneveldt at Los Alamitos, eventually winning the prestigious Champion of Champions in 1995.
Once the new millennium arrived, the Willis operation really began to thrive at Remington Park. He won the 2002 Heritage Place Derby with A Real Man, who eventually was voted 2002 AQHA Champion 3-year-old.
In 2003, Willis concluded the Remington Park season with a flourish, winning six consecutive stakes races including the Sooner State Stakes with A Real Man, the Remington Park Derby with eventual 2003 AQHA World Champion Oak Tree Special and the Remington Park Futurity with Redman Running. The Willis streak of six stakes wins also included the Oklahoma Distaff Challenge with Corona Coquette, the American Paint Classic with Hez Real Flashy and the American Paint Derby with Treasured Indy. All six of the stakes winners were ridden by Larry Payne.
In 2004, Willis began to win Remington Park training titles, in streaking fashion. He led all trainers in victories in Oklahoma City from 2004 to 2007 for four titles in a row. Willis won the crown five straight seasons from 2010 to 2014. The 2011 season produced 53 training victories, a Remington Park record for triumphs in one session.
Seasonal championships were also driven by stakes victories. Willis has won all of the richest races at Remington Park including: the Heritage Place Futurity twice (2007 & 2009), the Remington Park Futurity three times (2002, 2003, 2013), the Heritage Place Derby four times (2010-2012, 2014), the Remington Park Derby three times (2002, 2003, 2012) and has one Remington Park Championship (2013).
Willis won the 2009 Heritage Place Futurity with Ragazzo, while also saddling the rest of the superfecta horses who ran second, third and fourth.
Local domination led to more opportunities in other top Quarter Horse racing venues, including the 2013 All American Derby at Ruidoso Downs, N.M. with Feature Hero. He also won the 2016 Los Alamitos Super Derby with Big Lew.
Willis continues his yearly assault at the top of the local standings in Oklahoma racing, regardless the venue. He has also made sure that the Willis family name will stay in the trainer standings for years to come as his sons Kevin, Kasey and Eddie Lee (Bubba), all enjoy successful training careers.
Approaching 700 victories at Remington Park thru 2018, Willis is the all-time leader in Oklahoma City. Overall he is approaching 1,600 career AQHA wins and has amassed total earnings of more than $30 million. Perseverance through the early, and sometimes slow years, paid off handsomely for Willis.