Barrel racing and flat racing are seeing more crossover in the sale ring and breeding shed.
By Denis Blake in The American Quarter Horse Journal
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The barrel world can also be a new territory for established racehorse stallions.
“Dash Ta Fame is a perfect example,” says Jeff Tebow, general manager of the Oklahoma City-based Heritage Place sale company, about the veteran First Down Dash stallion. “He has been a great sire of racehorses, but there are many people who also look at his offspring for barrel racing. His racing offspring have earned about $15 million on the track, but he has also been a top barrel futurity sire for years.”
Another example can be found in Royal Shake Em, a stallion who sired the earners of more than $8 million on the racetrack and who stands at Ronnie and Bonnie Stewart’s Double S Farm near Holland, Texas.
“To be honest, the barrel end of this just fell into my lap,” says Ronnie. “A lady pulled up here one day named Kelly Yates with a mare named Firewater Fiesta. I didn’t know who she was or who the mare was, so she was telling me about her mare and how she wanted to breed to a stallion with an excellent mind. So she ended up breeding to Royal Shake Em.”
It turns out that Kelly was a champion barrel racer and Firewater Fiesta was the 2000 and 2001 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-Women’s Professional Barrel Racing Association horse of the year.
“Then all the top barrel people started breeding mares to him,” says Ronnie, who adds that Royal Shake Em’s first crop of foals from matings with barrel mares are 4 years old this year.
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Although Royal Shake Em’s barrel-bred horses are just getting started on their rodeo careers, some of his older race-bred offspring have already been successfully transitioned into barrel racers, and that has led to increased demand for his breeding services.
“Barrel racing probably makes up 25 percent of our whole breeding program,” Ronnie says. “If his first foal crop (of barrel-bred horses) does real well, it could easily turn into 50 percent of my business. I’ve been keeping track of the mares bred to Royal Shake Em, so I try to find out where those offspring are and then try to find a secondary career for them, possibly in barrels.”
Ronnie points out that, with the exception of an elite few, most stallions lose a little bit of their commercial luster with age as breeders tend to look toward younger stallion prospects. So marketing to barrel breeders is one way to supplement a racehorse stallion’s book of race mares.
Impacting the Sales
Heritage Place has always been a venue for selling racehorses, and that’s not likely to ever change. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not room for barrel horses and barrel horse buyers at the auction.
“I think we are seeing more of an impact from the barrel racing people, whether they are buying (race-bred horses) as yearlings or buying them at the mixed sale,” Jeff says. “I had a guy tell me that you can’t get to the top of the barrel racing game anymore without some of the speed you are going to get from racehorses. A half-second or even a hundredth of a second makes a huge difference, so it’s obvious why they are looking for race-bred horses.”
Jeff says it’s hard to quantify the exact impact of barrel horse buyers on the sale, but he thinks it’s still “fairly low” in the big picture. Even so, he stressed that barrel horse buyers are an important part of Heritage Place sales, and the company is entertaining the idea of sponsoring or creating a barrel horse futurity and derby, similar to what it already does on a much larger scale for racehorses, with the Heritage Place Futurity and Derby at nearby Remington Park.
“To have a successful auction, you need to have several buyers competing for a horse, and ultimately that’s good for the industry,” he says.
“There are some breeders who are disappointed when a barrel racer buys their horse,” he says. “If they are commercial racing breeders, they would love to see their horse go into race training and win a Grade 1 futurity because that adds value to their mare or stallion, but we’ve also seen that if a horse goes into the barrel world and is successful, then that can also increase the value of a mare or stallion. It would be nice to hand-place your horses and handpick your buyers, but that’s just not the case.”
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There has always been some hesitation on both sides to embrace the other. There are racehorse breeders who don’t want to see their horses on barrels, and barrel racers who prefer to preserve their sport’s traditional bloodlines.
“Some old-timers will say maybe the racehorses are a little too ‘hot,’ but you have to have that speed; barrel racing is just a controlled runaway,” says Jud Little, who stands seven stallions at his Jud Little Ranch near Ardmore, Oklahoma.
While that resistance might never disappear entirely, it might be inevitable that flat racing and barrel racing become even more intertwined in the future.
“You can either get on the bandwagon now or you can be behind the eight-ball when things really start blooming,” Ronnie says. “The fastest-growing part of the racing industry right now is the barrel industry.”
The purse money in barrel racing might not compare to the multimillion-dollar jackpots of racing’s rich futurities, but there is significant money to be won in the sport. That means its participants, including the 23,000 members of the National Barrel Horse Association, have money to spend at sales and on stallion breedings.
“To me, it’s like a right-hand, left-hand type thing, and both industries should recognize that,” says Mary Ellen Hickman, president of Future Fortunes Inc., a stallion incentive program for barrel horses. “We used to never see a straight barrel horse in the Heritage sale, and now we are starting to. In times like this, it helps to have more than one avenue to sell a horse. As long as we work together, it can help both sides.”