Q-Racing Blog: No Peer

Q-Racing Blog: No Peer

There is something special when a nearly impossible historic milestone is surpassed.

KJ Desparado. PHOTO: Dustin Orona Photography

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By Ty Wyant

Milestones are meant to be reached and in American Quarter Horse racing the $3 million mark was surpassed when KJ Desparado won the Refrigerator Handicap (G1) at Lone Star Park.

It was an appropriate race to do it in, as the $2 million milestone was reached by race namesake Refrigerator 29 years ago, after he was second in the 1994 Los Alamitos Championship (G1).

The $1 million mark was first passed when Higheasterjet won the 1981 All American Derby.

The common denominator between these horses is the All American Futurity, a race each of them won.

Of the 11 horses who have surpassed the $2 million mark in the history of American Quarter Horse racing, eight won the All American Futurity and two of the other three horses raced exclusively at Los Alamitos and won million-dollar races. 

The only horse to ever reach the $2 million mark without winning a seven-figure race was Danjer, who in his great career won 22 of 35 starts, including 12 Grade 1s – none of which he won before the age of 4. 

G. D. Highsmith’s Higheasterjet was a gritty and game warrior. He won the All American Futurity (G1) by a nose and the All American Derby (G1) by a nose. If it wasn’t for those two nose wins, we might not be talking about him today – another horse would have had the honor of being Quarter Horse racing’s first million-dollar earner.

Higheasterjet concluded his career with 10 wins from 30 starts and earnings of $1,633,035. It is a remarkable sum for racing in that era.

Jim Helzer’s Refrigerator is an icon. He raced from 1990 through 1995 and won 23 of 37 starts and concluded his career with $2,126,309 in earnings. He was named world champion in 1992 and 1993.

If you account for inflation, his earnings the day he retired would be worth more than $4.3 million today.

Refrigerator was purchased by Helzer for $150,000 when he was starting his career at Ross Meadows in Oklahoma.

“When I bought him, I told (wife) Marilyn that he would break more records than any horse alive,” said Helzer, an AQHA past president. “He won three straight Champion of Champions and I don’t know of any horse alive that can do that.”

The gelding won his first Champion of Champions in 1992 by 1 length as the odds-on favorite. In 1993, he came through with a three-quarter-length win as the 3-10 favorite and he capped his threepeat in 1994 with a hard-fought nose win. 

Refrigerator was trained in New Mexico by “Sleepy” Gilbreath and at Los Alamitos by Blane Schvaneveldt, both American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame members.

“When I sent him to Blane, I thought he was a great horse and started thinking he could reach $2 million. It was a big mountain to climb and he did it,” Helzer said.

A son of Rare Jet, Refrigerator reached the $2 million mark when he finished second in the 1994 Los Alamitos Championship. “He was beaten by a good horse (Brotherly) and a good horse can beat a good horse on any day, but we celebrated passing the $2 million,” Helzer said.

“He retired as a 6-year-old and retired sound.”

Owned by John Lee, Kathy Lee and Ruben Mares, KJ Desparado surpassed the $3 million dollar mark when he won the $100,000 Refrigerator Championship Stakes in November at Lone Star Park.

KJ Desparado started his money-earning roll with his All American Futurity (G1) victory. 

The son of Apollitical Jess has also won the Texas Classic Futurity (G1), the Ruidoso Derby (G1) and the Texas Classic Derby (G1), along with the Refrigerator.

If a Quarter Horse is to reach the $4 million milestone, then KJ Desparado has a head start. With $3,042,599 banked, he is three quarters of the way to that mark and is still racing. The mega-purse futurities are behind him, however older horse races offer more money than in years past – and that includes the Champion of Champions (G1), which will have a $1 million purse in 2024.

Like Helzer, Schvaneveldt and Gilbreath, Dr. Leonard Blach has seen it all. Nearing 90, he has been around Quarter Horse racing since he was 14, when he rode the great Miss Louton before his illustrious veterinary career.

“Yeah, I suppose there could be a $4 million earner,” Blach said. “I never thought there would be a $3 million earner.”

Only time will tell if and when another milestone is met.

AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHA Racing on Twitter and on Instagram, "like" Q-Racing on Facebook, and visit www.aqha.com/racing.