Get to know one of AQHA's founding sires.

King P-234, by Zantanon, by Little Joe, by Traveler. That pedigree is as familiar as the Pledge of Allegiance among old-time Quarter Horse breeders. None of these sires were one-hit wonders; it was that rare genetic chain with no weak links.

Most people, of course, link Zantanon with his famous son, King, who was foaled in 1932. His second most famous son was Ed Echols, an Arizona match racer who was purportedly comparable to King as a sire, though not as well promoted.

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While Ed Echols was named for an Arizona sheriff, Zantanon’s name came from the other side of the border and the law. He was named after a Mexican bandito. Zantanon was foaled in 1917 near Alice, Texas, about 140 miles south of San Antonio, on a ranch owned by Ott Adams. His dam was a stocky sorrel mare named Jeanette. AQHA records refer to her sire as Billy by Big Jim, the “Billy” probably referring to his type instead of his name, since Quarter Horses were also referred to as “Billy horses” in those days. Jeanette’s dam was believed to be a daughter of Sykes Rondo. Little Joe, Zantanon’s sire, was also out of a Sykes Rondo daughter.

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Prior to Zantanon’s arrival, Jeanette and Little Joe had already produced one fancy match-racing horse with a bandito name, Pancho Villa. Erasmo Flores of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, bought Zantanon when he was 11 months old and already had him in race training when he was 14 months old. A year or so later, Zantanon was sold to Erasmo’s uncle, Eutiquio Flores. Zantanon’s quick break and scorching early speed won him race after race. His earnings purportedly paid for a ranch south of Laredo. He was soon dubbed “The Man o’War of Mexico,” after the famous Thoroughbred with whom Zantanon shared a birthday. But while the real Man o’War was treated like a celebrity, Zantanon received no special treatment. In fact, he didn’t receive much of anything.

Half starved all the time, he looked like a gutted snowbird. His handlers were notorious for working him two or three hours a day, then leaving him tied to a hitching post outside a saloon for the afternoon. One of his admirers was a young man named Manuel “Meme” Benavides Volpe, a dry-goods store clerk turned oil baron in the Texas border town of Laredo. Zantanon had defeated Volpe’s father’s horses every time they’d challenged him, a total of 10 times over several years. Volpe longed to buy the abused stallion and give him the care he deserved. The problem was, Flores was disinclined to sell. Volpe outlasted him, though. When Flores died in 1931, Volpe paid an exorbitant $500 for the 14-year-old stallion.

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“Everyone criticized me for paying so much …” Volpe said in a 1962 Quarter Horse Journal article. “He was so poor and weak, he could hardly walk. But it was not long until many horsemen desired his service, which I did not permit.” Volpe did not breed the horse exclusively to his own mares, though by doing so, he did get King and Ed Echols. For other breeders, Zantanon sired the stallions San Siemon, Chico, Zantanon Jr, Sonny Kimble, Cuatro De Julio and Cucaracha – stallions who established their own Quarter Horse families. Uncle’s Pet, Zantanon’s daughter, bred to Zantanon’s son King P-234, resulted in Small Town Dude, the sire of Blondy’s Dude. Volpe said Zantanon was not only the fastest horse of his day, but he was also the smartest. “He could out-maneuver and take advantage of his opponent in such a way that he was almost impossible to defeat,” Volpe said. “I guess because he was so poor, the old horse knew he had to take every advantage.”