HOW THEY ALMOST LOST LEO
by 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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