In a world where youth is admired, Royal Santana defied all odds when he won his first AQHA world title at 20.
Foaled in May 1971, Royal Santana was born famous. He was the son of Peppy San, who was an AQHA Champion, a two-time National Cutting Horse Association champion and a member of the AQHA and NCHA halls of fame. Royal Santana was out of Royal Smart by Royal King and a full brother to Smart Peppy, the dam of legend Smart Little Lena. From C. N. “Chunky” Woodward’s vast Douglas Lake Cattle Co. ranch in British Columbia, Royal Santana was sent into training as a 2-year-old with Matlock Rose in Texas until Suzanne Nelms bought him and gave him to Sonny Rice. Sonny showed Santana at the 1974 NCHA World Championship Futurity where he won the coveted Edgar Brown Memorial Trophy for being the highest marking horse in the trials. He was sold in that year's Futurity sale to Stu Gilred who claimed the honor of ownership for $24,000. Dave McGregor became Royal Santana's trainer and the rest became history.
Frank Merrill bought Royal Santana in 1985 and Windward Stud became a virtual “Fountain of Youth” for the horse. Merrill’s wife, Robin, showed Santana to the AQHA high-point cutting title in 1986. In 1990, the Merrill’s’ daughter, McKenzie, who was 12 years old at the time, showed 19 year old Royal Santana to win both the AQHYA high-point and the AQHYA World Championship in cutting.
An AQHA World Championship still eluded Royal Santana. In 1991, Merrill decided to give it one last try.
After watching his wife score a 218 on Barb Olena, Merrill looked to post a big score. Merrill cut cows that would challenge Santana, the last a chargy Brahman-cross that caused the gelding to dig deep. When the dust settled, their 220.5 lasted through 13 more runs for the amateur cutting world championship.
In his lifetime, he won more than $171,500 and spawned a legion of memories that saw each member of the Merrill Family winning championships on this great gelding.
Royal Santana died in 1995, and was buried next to the arena named in his honor at Merrill’s Windward Stud. He was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2000.
Biography updated as of September 2018.