ALMOST LOST LEO
Lesli Krause Groves
Reprinted from The
Quarter Horse Journal, May 1994
W.C. Rowe was thoroughly annoyed with the railroad people, How could
they lose anything as big as a boxcar! Hadn't they assured him, when his
possessions were loaded in Oklahoma, that everything would arrive safely
in New Mexico sometime the next day? Where was the confounded boxcar
now? Finally, he found it. The heavy doors rolled back to reveal
the total chaos created as the car was shunted back and forth in various
railway terminal. Household goods were strewn everywhere. A husky,
sorrel Quarter Horse stallion stood forlornly with a set of bed springs
circling his neck like a giant, rectangular wreath unceremoniously
chunked over his head. This was Leo, the proud racehorse which
would become one of AQHA's all-time leading sires.
Leo was bred by J.W. House of Cameron,
Texas, and was foaled in 1940, the year AQHA was organized.
His sire was Joe Reed II, by Joe Reed. His dam, Little
Fanny, was also by Joe Reed, Leo first made a name racing
for John Tillman of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. He defeated some of
the best horses of the day at 220 yards, and held the
300-yard track record at Pawhuska. Tillman then declared Leo
"open to any horse that would come to Pawhuska and run," and
even with all sorts of imposed handicaps' Leo reportedly won
20 of 22 match races. "He has always had a wonderful
disposition . . . and he had the heart and ability to come
from behind and outrun horses with big names," Tillman said
in a 1953 issue of The Thoroughbred Record.
While area residents acknowledged Leo's
greatness' they weren't going to continue losing money to
Tillman, so he opted to sell the horse to E.M. Salinas of
Eagle Pass, Texas. Evidently Salinas, too, had trouble
finding competition for Leo, as he leased him out to be
raced in Mexico. Little is known of Leo's campaign
across the border, other than it ended when he injured his
front legs in a trailer accident.
After recuperating in the barn of Helen
Michaelis of Eagle Pass, second executive secretary of AQHA,
Leo was purchased by W.C. Rowe, who returned Leo to Pawhuska
to service his small band of race- red mares. When
Rowe moved to New Mexico, he shipped Leo in a makeshift
stall inside a so-called "immigrant car" which carried
everything from livestock to furniture. Of course, that's
how Leo ended up in the pitiful predicament with the bed
springs around his neck. When Rowe realized he was not
set up for a horse breeding operation, he sold Leo to his
friend Gene Moore of Fairfax, Oklahoma. Moore not only did a
little ranch work on Leo, he also let his eight-year-old
daughter ride him. "He was one of the best cowhorses I have
ever thrown a saddle on," Moore told The Thoroughbred
Record. But when a mare lodged a crippling kick to Leo's
stifle, Moore was ready to sell.
"It (Leo's stifle) had swelling on it
about the size of your hat," said Bud Warren of Perry,
Oklahoma, Leo's next owner, and salvation. "His old left
knee had a big knot: on it, too, (from the trailer wreck in
Mexico) and he was pretty crippled up."
Warren said that when he paid $2,500 for
Leo in 1947, people thought he was the biggest chump in
Oklahoma. But he knew something they would soon find out.
Warren owned two outstanding two-year-old fillies Leo had
sired at Pawhuska in 1944. About the time Warren's
check was clearing the bank, Leota W equaled a track record
at 220 yards while winning the Oklahoma Futurity at Tulsa.
The other filly, Flit, came in second, Leo's stifle injury
healed and Warren doubled his stud fee to $100.
By 1951, Leo topped the list of sires of
two-year-old Register of Merit qualifiers, In 1952, his
daughter Mona Leta was champion three-year-old racehorse. In
1953, Miss Meyers won the overall world champion title. The
following year, Palleo Pete was champion stallion and Bobbie
Leo was champion two-year-old filly. All told, 12 of his get
set a total of 22 new track records; eight more equaled
track records. But his progeny did more than win at the
track. Sixty-nine earned halter points, 46 earned
performance points, and 24 were AQHA champions. They also
excelled in the rodeo arena. Leo died at Warren's ranch at
the age of 27, in 1967. There's a statue of his likeness at
Leo City Park in Perry. Warren and Leo were both inducted
into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 1989.
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