By Jolee Jordan
Special Feature: WPRA Celebrating 70 Years
At the conclusion of the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, when then-PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman shook Nellie Miller’s hand as he presented her the spoils as the newly crowned WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer, it was the culmination not only of drive and hard work, not only of long hours on the road and in the practice pen, it was also an affirmation of the power of the right bloodlines.
Miller’s equine partner, the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year Rafter W Minnie Reba, aka Sister, was raised by Miller’s family, the result of a cross of the stallion KS Cash N Fame and Miller’s great high school rodeo horse, Espuela Roan, better known as Reba.
“We bred Sister thinking she was going to be a barrel horse,” Miller told the WPRN’s Ted Harbin. “My whole family has been involved. This is such a long process of getting to this point: breeding, getting a colt, breaking one at two or three years to ride.”
For Miller, it was a victory 10 years in the making.
Bloodlines also played a role in the journey to the 2017 WPRA World Reserve Championship for Hailey Kinsel. Kinsel bought her mare, DM Sissy Hayday, as a two-year old through a sale, picking the filly because she owned a half-sister out of the same mare, Royal Sissy Irish. It didn’t hurt that the sire was PC Frenchmans Hayday, better known as Dinero, a horse that competed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) himself and sired a WPRA World Champion, MP Meter My Hay, both under the saddle of four-time WPRA World Champion Sherry Cervi.
“We were already sold on the dam side,” notes Kinsel. “And I grew up watching Sherry, so I knew who Dinero was.”
Barrel racing is a multi-million dollar industry today; no matter where, it’s ultra-competitive and bloodlines are often the first step in the process of finding the advantage to be successful inside the arena. Certain genetics have been proven to be more adept at running at high speed and turning.
But the huge emphasis on breeding was not the case seven decades ago when barrel racing was a new sport and the pro women were just organizing their own Association.
Ride What You’ve Got
When the WPRA began under the name of the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) in 1948, many of the earliest members were ranch girls and they rode the horses readily available to them. It was incredibly common for cowgirls to compete in multiple events and they often only had one horse to use.
In the days before specialization, horses were all around competitors, running barrels, roping, cutting and whatever other events their jockeys asked of them.
The GRA was born less than a decade behind the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). It’s likely that cowgirls knew the breeding of their horses as they were often raised on their own ranches but getting them registered was not a foregone conclusion as it is today.
Barrel racing itself was incredibly new and there was no market for horses that only competed on the cloverleaf as the earnings potential was fairly small. Thus, there was no need to track which bloodlines where excelling in that event.
That all changed in a tremendous way, first because of the GRA’s promotion of the sport in professional rodeo and later, with the growth of futurities and eventually even divisional format barrel racing. The growth of events and prize money opened the market for trainers, virtually non-existent in barrel racing before the 1950s, and for breeders.
“The breeding got popular as the futurity industry grew,” notes Tanya Randall, a journalist who has extensively researched the barrel racing industry’s top bloodlines. “The pro girls trained colts and ran at futurities. People forget a lot of young horses made the NFR in the early days before people really started keeping track. A few ladies made the NFR on colts they trained and ended up selling those horses because it was selling that made them a living.
“So as futurities got specialized breeding, the rodeo horses followed as they came out of those programs. You can see how much more they’re concentrated now–like with Dash Ta Fame and Frenchmans Guy.”
Margaret Owens Montgomery was the first GRA President and first world champion in the barrel racing. Though she won that title on a borrowed horse, a horse named Pee Wee which belonged to Amy McGilvray’s family, her family raised horses too, focusing on Three Bars, Hancock and Skeet lines.
Her second title came in 1951 aboard a horse named Joe Brown who carried a lot of thoroughbred influence, as was common in the early days of both the GRA and the AQHA. Likewise, Latonne Sewalt won a pair of WPRA World titles in 1950 and 1954 aboard a half thoroughbred she called Little Joe.
The thoroughbred Three Bars became one of the most influential sires in the history of the AQHA and, through the generations, in barrel racing specifically. His progeny included Lena’s Bar (dam of Easy Jet), Sugar Bars (sire of Flit Bar) and Rocket Bar (the grandsire of Dash for Cash). Three Bars appears in the five generation pedigree of both Dash Ta Fame and Frenchmans Guy, without a doubt the two most influential sires in barrel racing in the modern era.
Wanda Harper Bush won a pair of titles back-to-back in 1952-53 aboard the mare Dee Gee, whom she also showed in AQHA events, earning points in halter, reining and roping. In 1955, Dee Gee was the first horse to claim two AQHA Honor Rolls in one year, earning them in halter and reining.
Bush retired the mare to the breeding shed, raising several colts and her lineage can still be found on the Harper Ranch today.
Competing in both the GRA and AQHA would become more commonplace as the breed shows offered another option to earn money in the arena. It also created an incentive for barrel racers to register their horses, making it easier to track the bloodlines.
As the industry evolved, it became the trend for one outstanding individual to spark an interest in a particular bloodline. For the stallion Oklahoma Star Jr., it was actually a pair of GRA World Champions, Jane Mayo’s V’s Sandy and Sherry Johnson’s Star Plaudit, which gave rise to his reputation. Mayo claimed three GRA titles from 1959 to 1961 while Johnson won in 1962. Florence Youree also rode an Oklahoma Star Jr, a horse she called Junior who competed in both the tie down roping and barrel racing.
In the late 1970s, Leo horses began to dominate within the ranks of the GRA. Kathie O’Brien won the WNFR average in 1968 aboard Warrior Leo, a full brother to War Leo Dude, who carried Joyce (Burk) Kernek to the 1970 GRA World Championship. The dam was a Hancock bred mare that produced other colts that Kernek bought; all made barrel horses. Missy Long won the GRA World title aboard Leo Thistle, a grandson of Leo raised by Kernek, in 1969.
Leo was also the maternal grandsire to GRA World Champion Maudies Joak, the only stallion to win a world title to date, doing so with Connie Combs in 1976.
Joak was bred to Sugar Babe, the mare who ran second to him in 1976, and the stud colt Suak later went to the WNFR himself in 1990 with Collette Graves Baier, who owned Sugar Babe.
The Girls Rodeo Association Grows Up
The GRA Board of Directors moved to change the Association’s name to the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association in 1982 and made its first moves toward securing prize money equal to other events in rodeo; just three years later, the National Finals Rodeo moved to its home in Las Vegas, one of the most lucrative moves in the history of pro rodeo as the event is now worth $10 million to its participants.
The established bloodlines of Three Bars, Leo and the like were still represented but had begun to move further down within the pedigrees, often four and five generations back. Lee Ann Guilkey’s NFR qualifying stallion Rackum on Man, had both Three Bars and Leo on his papers and carried his owner to four appearances at the NFR, winning a Reserve WPRA World title in 1984.
He was beaten that year by a teenager and her gelding Gills Bay Boy, aka Scamper. Charmayne James’ ProRodeo Hall of Fame horse dominated the rest of the decade and did boast Three Bars in his pedigree but four generations away. Horses bred similarly to Scamper proved good working horses but the line did not take off within the barrel racing industry at the time.
Making history again, Scamper was the first barrel horse to be cloned in 2006. His genetic twin, named Clayton, has not been used in competition but rather was created to carry on Scamper’s genetics as a stallion. The impact on the continuation of this bloodline still remains an open question.
As the 1980s closed out, a new era in the business of breeding barrel horses was about to emerge as pro rodeo barrel racing became more lucrative and divisional barrel racing, established for the first time on a large scale by the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) in 1992, opened doors for the marketing of horses beyond just those who could compete at the top levels at rodeos and open competitions.
The business of breeding barrel horses was in a transitional phase from the late 1970s through the decade of excess, the 1980s; bloodlines began to branch out from the root sires of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). Barrel racing as an industry was changing too: futurities grew more lucrative, providing a new foundation upon which barrel racing horses were built and new markets for mid- and lower level horses were opened by divisional formats.
Flitting to Revolutionize the Sport
Journalist Tanya Randall has probably researched and written more about barrel racing bloodlines than anyone. Randall points to horses like Leo, Otoe and Sugar Bars as the earliest influential individuals in the sport.
“Later on you had Flit Bar, who was introduced by Jimmie Gibbs Munroe’s Robin Flit Bar,” said Randall. Munroe claimed the GRA World title in 1975; Robins Flit Bar was by Flit Bar and out of an Oklahoma Star bred mare.
Flit Bar was a son of Sugar Bars out of Flit, a mare by Leo. He probably represents the first major bloodline to begin to spin off specifically with barrel horses in mind.
Several Flit Bars began to appear at the NFR including Dr Nick Bar, a stallion used by a young Fallon Taylor during her NFR appearances in the mid-1990s. Dr Nick Bar is out of Este Tag, a daughter of Leo Tag and thus a half sister to Leo Thistle, Missy Long’s World Champion.
Dr Nick Bar produced several Wrangle NFR qualifiers, most notably Sugar Moon Express, owned and ridden by Lindsay Sears. Martha helped Sears win two WPRA World Championships and still holds the single season earnings record for the WPRA at $323,570.
Dr Nick Bar picked up a second world title in 2014 with Flos Heiress, also the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year title 2013 for Fallon Taylor.
Vickie Adams and Celie Whitcomb Ray set off another fire when they bred Ray’s outstanding NFR mare Slash J Harletta to Flit Bar. The result was Fire Water Flit, also known as Milo. Though unfortunately injuries kept the stallion from making his own NFR appearance with Adams, he has produced many barrel racing winners, establishing another extremely influential barrel racing bloodline.
Firewater Fiesta, the grey mare who won two AQHA/WPRA Barrel Horse of the Year awards and carried Kelly Yates to a WPRA Reserve World title is probably the most known; the mare is keeping the lineage alive as her foals are entering the industry.
Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi won a WPRA World title on Yeah Hes Firen in 2009, a grandson of Fire Water Flit as did Callie duPerier in 2015 with Rare Dillion. In 2017, Tiany Schuster rode JSYK Im Famous, whose dam’s sire is Fire Water Flit, to help her set a WPRA regular season earnings record.
Firewaterontherocks is also a piece of the next chapter of the Flit Bar/Fire Water Flit story. The son of FWF nearly made an appearance at the Wrangler NFR with owner Robyn Herring in 2012 and had a son in the race in 2017, Firewatermakemehappy with Kassie Mowry.
Bozo Starts the Trend
When Kristie Peterson hit the barrel racing world in the early 1990s, her great gelding French Flash Hawk set off the next big thing in barrel racing bloodlines. A son of Sun Frost out of Caseys Charm, Bozo’s success sparked interest in Sun Frost horses and two, Frenchmans Guy and PC Frenchmans Hayday, have become household names amongst barrel racers.
Peterson herself was an early advocate for Frenchmans Guy, a Sun Frost out of a half sister to Bozo’s dam. Peterson primarily rides FG horses and daughter Jordan Peterson Briggs made a Wrangler NFR appearance on a Frenchmans Guy, Frenchmans Jester, in 2009.
Barrel racing earnings are now tracked by Equi-Stat, the statistical division of Cowboy Publishing Group. Equi-Stat began tracking rodeo earnings in limited fashion in 2009 before expanding nearly nationwide in the following years. Each year they publish the top sires and Frenchmans Guy is always among the leaders. His progeny have recorded nearly $10 million in earnings.
A scan of the results from a top level event today reveal some influence of Guy; there were five horses at the 2017 Wrangler NFR, including back-up horses, which carried his blood.
Interestingly, Frenchmans Guy’s dam, Frenchmans Lady, was a good producer in her own right. Mary Bonogofsky won the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo and made a NFR trip on a daughter, Lady Lord.
Mel Potter, the father of four-time WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Cervi, was so impressed with Bozo, against whom Cervi battled for WPRA dominance throughout the 1990’s, that he bought a full brother to the flashy gelding and made Dinero the cornerstone of his breeding program.
“I bought him because he was a full brother to Kristie Peterson’s horse Bozo,” Potter told Robin Hoffman in an article in the February 2010 WPRN. “In my opinion Bozo was the best I ever saw.”
Dinero was one of those stallions who made his own name inside the arena as well as letting his progeny speak for him. In 2005, Cervi rode the stud at the Wrangler NFR, placing in the average. He served double duty often that year, running barrels with Cervi and serving up steers in the team roping for top PRCA heelers including Cory Petska, Cervi’s husband.
Dinero’s daughter Stingray would help Cervi win two more WPRA World titles and two Wrangler NFR averages.
Bet on Red
Running in the same era as Bozo, Sharon Smith’s Speed Money introduced On the Money Red to the masses, earning a Barrel Futurities of America World title and qualifying to five NFRs. It soon seemed that On the Money Red progeny were dominating barrel racing from the futurity world to the NFR. Fallon Taylor’s mare Flowers and Money, a NFR competitor and dam of Taylor’s WPRA World Champ Flos Heiress, was also by the stud.
Interestingly, On the Money Red was descended from Leo as well but he soon established his own line within the sport. Speed Money’s full brother, Designer Red, became a solid producer in his own right. He in turn produced Slick by Design, the stallion owned by Hi Point Performance Horses and jockeyed by Michele McLeod who holds the distinction of running the fastest time ever run at the Wrangler NFR by a stallion.
As bloodlines expanded, different parts of the country seem to develop their own popular lines. When barrel racers heard the names Judge Cash and Biankus, they immediately thought of the Northwest.
Biankus produced two stallions that ran at the Wrangler NFR: Captain Biankus, who was owned and ridden by Kelli Currin, and Bogie Biankus, owned by Randi Rae Britt and ridden by Katie (McCoin) Garthwaite. The Biankus line made another Wrangler NFR appearance in 2017. Bogie is a Smash, ridden by WPRA Rookie of the Year Taci Bettis, is by Bogie Biankus.
Judge Cash just passed away in 2017 but left a long legacy in the industry and progeny with millions of dollars in earnings. Likely the most famous own son within the WPRA is Judge Buy Cash, who claimed an AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year title in 2010 and a Wrangler NFR average win with Brenda Mays in 2012. Judge Cash’s daughter, KG Justiceweexpected, ran at the 2017 Wrangler NFR with Kathy Grimes.
Lisa Lockhart’s beloved Louie, An Oakie with Cash, is a grandson of Judge Cash. His dam, Lady Kaweah Cash is by Judge Cash.
Fames the Game
Perhaps the most prolific of the modern era stallions is Dash Ta Fame. A racehorse with nearly $300,000 in earnings on the track, Dash Ta Fame produced 80 stakes winners and earners of more than $17 million on the track.
Former NFR qualifier Martha Wright helped put Dash Ta Fame on the radar for barrel racers when she hit the 2000 futurity season with Fame Fox Kirk. That opened the floodgates for the stallion.
His progeny’s track record pales in comparison to what he has accomplished around the cloverleaf. Dash Ta Fame is ubiquitous across the industry with more than $20 million in recorded progeny earnings; nearly a dozen horses in the stalls for the Wrangler NFR in 2017 had Dash Ta Fame on their pedigrees.
Stevi Hillman’s Cuatro Fame and Sydni Blanchard’s Famous Heartbreaker represented first generation get. The top two horses in the Wrangler NFR average, Rafter W Minnie Reba, aka Sister, ridden by Nellie Miller and KN Fabs Gift of Fame, aka JLo, ridden by Ivy Conrado are both granddaughters.
Frenchmans Guy and Dash Ta Fame have traded the top spot for sires on Equi-Stat’s annual statistical analysis of barrel racing earnings for some years. Ironically, their rivalry is overshadowed by the fact that the two stallions are often considered Magic Crosses with each other’s daughters.
In fact, Mary Burger’s 2016 WPRA World Champion, Sadiefamouslastwords, is grand-get of both stallions as is KN Fabs Gift of Fame. French First Watch, aka Custer, ridden by Jill Welsh is another cross, an own son of Frenchmans Guy out of the Dash Ta Fame mare Dashing to Fame. He was named the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year in 2015.
Even the progression of promoting and developing bloodlines changed through the decades. In the early days, the proven sires often came off the racetrack but as the sport advanced, breeders began looking more to stallions who had competed in the arena themselves, thus the success of Slick by Design, PC Frenchmans Hayday and Firewaterontherocks.
Today, the trend is moving to a greater emphasis on the bottom half of the pedigree. That move is made possible by the advances in reproductive technology, particularly embryo transfer which makes it possible to raise foals from performing mares without ending their competitive careers.
The 2017 Wrangler NFR held two great examples of the success of this method: both Tillar Murray and Stevi Hillman rode horses whose dams competed in the Wrangler NFR as well. Murray’s Royal Star Commander is out of Go Royal Scarlett who carried Ruth Haislip to three Wrangler NFRs and Hillman’s MCM Imasharpguy is out of Mulberry Canyon Moon, a Wrangler NFR go round winner with Angie Meadors.
PC Frenchmans Hayday and MP Meter My Hay made history at the Wrangler NFR in 2009, the first time a stallion competed in the same round of the Wrangler NFR as one of his offspring. The day could be coming soon when a mare runs alongside her foals on the biggest stage in barrel racing as well.
One thing is certain: barrel racing records continue to fall and horses are getting faster than many thought possible. The focus on developing the best bloodlines for the speed and agility needed in the sport will only grow more and more important in the coming decades.
A huge thanks to Tanya Randall for her research and contribution to this story.
Courtesy of WPRA