Barrel Racing and Flat Racing: Bloodlines Collide

Barrel Racing and Flat Racing: Bloodlines Collide

The two speed sports see plenty of crossover in the breeding shed.

palomino barrel racing horse blur (Credit: Journal)

text size

Editor's Note: This article was first published several years ago in The American Quarter Horse Journal.

By Denis Blake for the Journal


It’s easy to say that barrel racing and flat racing are similar in that the fastest horse wins. On the other hand, the two industries can sometimes seem worlds apart. In recent years, however, those two distinct worlds have come closer as barrel racers seek to add more speed to their bloodlines, and racehorse breeders and stallion owners seek new revenue streams. 

“I’ve seen an increasing number of barrel trainers at the January Heritage Sale that are buying straight racehorse prospects to make barrel horses out of them,” says performance horse breeder Jud Little, who stands eight stallions at his Jud Little Ranch near Ardmore, Oklahoma. “They are making a very significant impact on the racehorse sale industry.”

Not only are barrel racers making an impact on the sale industry, they are also having an impact on the breeding industry. Jud, who has been operating his ranch for more than 40 years, has long been an advocate of bringing racehorse blood into barrel racing. And he’s not alone.

“The competition in barrel racing is so fierce now,” says Mary Ellen Hickman, CEO of Future Fortunes Inc., a stallion incentive program for barrel horses. “Maybe the dam is more of a working-bred horse, but they go to a racehorse sire to get some more speed in there.”

After all, speed is the name of the game whether you are running down the track or around the barrels.

“I’m all about that speed; it makes up for so many other things,” Jud says.

Racehorse Stallions for Barrel Racing

Unlike with a racehorse stallion, where you can at least get an idea of his chances for success at the end of his first crop’s 2-year-old season, it takes longer in the barrel racing world where the majority of horses don’t compete until age 4 or 5 and sometimes don’t achieve success until they approach double-digit age.

“It takes five years (to prove a barrel stallion), and it’s a painstakingly exhausting kind of thing to wait that long, but it’s just the nature of the beast,” Jud says.

Jud has noticed that other barrel horse breeders are also adding race-bred stallions to their rosters. Many others are breeding to established race-bred stallions, and broodmares with racehorse blood have long been successful in barrel racing.

“(All American Futurity winner) Bugs Alive In 75 has been a leading maternal grandsire of barrel horses for years,” he says. “It’s a matter of picking and choosing the right bloodlines. I’ve identified six or seven lines of horses, both Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse, that might not suit on the first or second line of a pedigree but I might like to see them on the third line. I constantly tinker with it.”

Dual-Purpose Stallions

The barrel world can also be a new territory for established racehorse stallions.

“Dash Ta Fame is a perfect example,” says Jeff Tebow, CEO 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 $19 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 T4 Ranch and is owned by Ronnie Stewart/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 Women's Professional Rodeo Association-AQHA horse of the year.

“Then all the top barrel people started breeding mares to him,” says Ronnie. 

Even when Royal Shake Em’s barrel-bred horses were just getting started on their rodeo careers, some of his older race-bred offspring successfully transitioned into barrel racers and rodeo horses, and that led to increased demand for his breeding services.

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., AQHA's online stallion directory, now hosts the line-up of stallions enrolled in the Pink Buckle barrel racing program, where nominated offspring are eligible to compete at the $2 million Pink Buckle Open 4D and Futurity. View the Pink Buckle stallion directory here.