SI Vault
Mason Smith
September 20, 1976
The tone is folksy, the crowds small, but the cutting-horse contests are surely a most serious bidness, with $500,000 offered for a top stallion
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September 20, 1976

Cutting Up A Storm In Texas

The tone is folksy, the crowds small, but the cutting-horse contests are surely a most serious bidness, with $500,000 offered for a top stallion

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Next morning, Tio Kleberg r'ars back and stomps the bronze door handle of his office on the third floor of the Kleberg First National Bank of Kingsville. Tio means uncle. He's 30, about 5'5", strongly built, pure handsome. He tells how the King Ranch has always bred performance horses. Cap'n King gave $300 for the first 12,000-acre land grant and within a few months paid $700 for a stallion. Unlike most ranches, the King Ranch has always used its mares, proved 'em out at working stock, and put the best of them into the brood band. Everybody'll tell you the King Ranch has got the best mares. At last year's sale, 25 yearlings brought an average of $6,200. We have a progr'm, we don't just run to this year's get-of-sire champion and breed every sort of mare to him; a long-term line breeding progr'm that has resulted in uniform quality mares that'll put a stronger stamp on their get than any stallion, don't care what ol' flintlock says different....

In Tio's office is a large painting of Monkey, the foundation sire of the ranch's main contribution to civilization, rated hereabouts on a par with the Model T Ford: the Santa Gertrudis breed of beef cattle. Monkey is at rest, lying in a field full of his progeny. Maybe the original King rests, but his progeny don't. That, uncles and aunts, is also what it's all about.

The thing is, the horse-breeding progr'm got a little bit stagnant back awhile, and cutting horses come into a boom, and even if about 60% of your good cutting horses had King Ranch blood, it was time for an outcross to a new stallion. Tio and Joe Stiles, his quarter-horse manager, spent six months traveling all over the West, incognito, looking for the best. They picked Mr. San Peppy. They're going to use artificial insemination to maximize his seed, maybe even inject the mares with that new hormone and time their estrus periods to the horse's cutting schedule. If he does what he's for, the King Ranch'll be on the tip of everybody's tongue again.

The Brink's Ranch is about 50 miles north of San Antonio. The Arc de Triomphe is nothing to the Brink's gate. Just inside you realize that the entrance drive is uncommonly wide, straight and level, and that it has lights along its edges. No roof over the arena here, and under clear blue skies the lovely oak-and-mesquite Texas hill country hosts crackling Canadian air. A Lear jet sings along the driveway. Lunch is pure Brink's brangusburger (meat from an Angus-Brahma cross). The crowd, again, is pure aficionado, plus a busload of Directors of the Western States Floor Covering Association, carpets being a good share of L. D. Brinkman's business.

The first go-round, Mr. San Peppy ties with Jay Freckles and Mr. Johnie Gay Bar at 148 points apiece. The next day, Mr. San Peppy marks only 145 and Jay Freckles produces another gorgeous performance, marking 150. In the finals, Mr. San Peppy stands fifth among nine horses. To win, he would have to make up a five-point difference, which means he'd have to mark a 152, say, and some ol' calf'd have to ketch Jay Freckles goin' th' wrong way. Never happen.

Sitting there on the powerful, dignified Mr. San Peppy, needing a miracle, Buster Welch turns for a metaphor to the miraculous Dallas Cowboys. "We're gonna have to just back into that ol' pocket just like Starback, an' th'ow one of them ol' Hail Marys." There's just no light under Mr. San Peppy as he works. Can't see the legs for the flying dirt. He has maniacal locomotive poise, synchronous knowledge of the cow's forthcoming stunts. All four corners work ad hoc. He draws prolonged coyote-song from the cognoscenti and the floor-coverers alike. Buster works him on two good calves, quits each in the center, turns back to cut out a third and the buzzer sounds. The judges both score him 76, for a 152.

On Jay Freckles, Bill Freeman needs only a 147� to win the cutting. That would be the poorest he's done in four days. His first cut is clean, centered; he sets up the cow and just proper tears up the arena with it. Freeman is pushing Jay Freckles; he's after not just the overall win but Buster's 152. He's marking high on this calf; good calf, athletic, fast. He quits the calf perfectly when he's got the good out of it, and goes back into the bunch for another.

This time, two calves slant out in front of him, a mostly Hereford and a mostly Brahma. Bill slants the horse with them, commits him to the Brahma, and Jay Freckles breaks out sharply to divide the two calves. Right then the Brahma ducks his head and puts on a tough move, shoots right along Freeman's leg. He passes through the bunched herd and then he bangs the back fence so hard it rocks and wobbles. The judges give Jay Freckles a 139.

Tio Kleberg is rightly pleased. Harvey Brinkman hands Buster one more Jim Reno trophy. He may wind up with as much Reno statuary as Leon Jaworski. A couple days later, in Houston, Jay Freckles turns in three stunning runs and beats the champion, Mr. San Peppy, by two points overall. But right in the middle of the second go-round, that Canadian radio station ups and sells Jay Freckles for 35 grand to Jim Milner—right out from under Bill Freeman, the only rider lately who's been able to keep Jay Freckles from biting the cows.

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