Article from the Barrel Racing Report // Tanya Randall
From a talented-laden field of designer barrel-breds with top-tier riders hand-picked by savvy owners came the most unlikely of champions. A novice owner with a greener-than-gourd horse paired with a reluctant rider teamed up to best some of the hottest futurity competitors in the country at the Ardmore Futurity, held Sept. 21- 25 in Ardmore, Okla. Dreams First Flash, owned by Mark and Laurie Singletary’s Tres Mesas Horses in Fort Worth, Texas, and ridden by Wenda (Wilson) Johnson, made his barrel racing futurity debut—and the futurity debut for all his connections—and came away with a $11,331 championship.
“It wasn’t like I said I’m going to learn about this and then get a barrel horse,” laughed the horse’s owner Mark Singletary. “It was just one weird circumstance after another.” Singletary, a musician and long-time horse lover, didn’t get his first horse until he was in his 50s. He decided to expand his horse ownership after looking for a way to keep an ag exemption on a piece of property. Fate intervened when his cousin introduced him to a friend he’d made at church, longtime horseman Jerry Bailey. At the time, Bailey was headed to the Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale. There he picked up Flash for $9,000. Bred by Quarter K Inc., of Kennewick, Wash., Flash is by champion racehorse sire First Moonflash, a wickedly fast stallion that holds several world records. His dam is the First Down Dash daughter First Down Dream, who is out of a three-quarter sister to Strawflyin Buds. Singletary later partnered with Bailey on the gelding, but unfortunately, the race track didn’t suit Flash. “He went through four very successful trainers at the track,” said Singletary. “He didn’t run in a single race except one small one at the end of the year. He was fast, but had no stamina. The trainer said we could keep running him, but you’re probably not going to win enough to pay for the training.” Singletary decided to buy Bailey out and bring the colt home to his boarding facility along the Trinity River just east of Loop 820 in Fort Worth. With of his sweet disposition, Singletary figured he could use Flash as a trail horse. Once they got him home, Singletary’s barn manager Luis Hernandez was concerned about the gelding’s lack of appetite, and he was taken to Brazos Valley Equine Hospital, where Singletary’s daughter works. Flash had a severe case of gastric ulcers that were causing him to be anemic. Hernandez, who used to train Peruvian Pasos, started riding the gelding and playing with him around the barrels, although he himself had no experience with the sport. The decision was made to send Flash to a trainer, but it didn’t work out. “I’d see Luis run barrels in the backyard and then watch the barrels at the Fort Worth Stock Show, and while I’m no expert, I knew Flash could run as fast as those horses,” Singletary said. “I tried another trainer, but she had an emergency and had to leave because she was from out of state. So at this point, we’d been through six trainers and had one race at the track. Every time I sent him off nothing happened!” Then fate intervened again when the small world of the horse industry came together. Through his involvement with the Mustang Makeover, Jerry Bailey had met avid competitor and former barrel racer Wylene Wilson-Davis from Arizona. He introduced her to Singletary, and later on, Wilson introduced her sister Wenda Johnson, who was now living in Paducah, Texas, to Singletary. An avid barrel racer in her youth and through college, Johnson was infamously known for running barrels bareback at the American West Finals. (She ran a low 17 on a WPRA Standard, no less.) A former AQHA Amateur World Champion Pole Bender, Johnson had left the sport behind to focus on her family, which includes two small children, and her nursing studies and career. While working on her Master’s degree, the Singletarys graciously let her stay at thei home while she did clinical rotations at a nearby hospital. “They were kind enough to let me stay at their house,” she explained. “They wouldn’t let me pay them, so I said, ‘At least let me exercise your horses or something.’ They said, ‘Well, we have this horse that we think is kind of special. We think maybe he can be a barrel horse.’” Within the first five minutes on his back this spring, Johnson knew Flash was amazingly talented. “He just blew me away,” said Johnson. “I was like, ‘Why is he sitting in your pasture? You need to get a trainer. This horse is going to do amazing things!’” Not one to pass up what he had in front of him, Singletary asked Johnson to ride Flash. “I knew that I didn’t want to take him home,” said Johnson. “My husband and I talked about it, and he said, ‘Why not. You can’t do a bunch, but he’s a colt and doesn’t need a bunch.’ So I called back and said this is what I can commit to—once or twice a month, I’ll just meet you at the barrel races, keep him at home where he’s happy and healthy.” Johnson ran Flash when she could get away for the weekend, and when she couldn’t, Hernandez ran the gelding. He even placed on him in the 1D at the NBHA Texas State Finals, both the horse and rider’s first three-day barrel race. Johnson, herself, just six races on Flash by the time the team went to Ardmore, where they were the talk of the show after winning the first round with a spectacular 14.576. “That first run, I felt like he really put it together,” she said. “There were a couple of little bobbles, but for his limited experience, my biggest thing is I really tried to keep him quiet. I felt like he did fantastic. He did his job and was quiet and walked out. He didn’t get worked up. That’s my biggest thing with a young horse— to keep them quiet and keep them happy. He still has a long way to go, he’s not finished by any means, but he’s very talented and every time I run him you can feel it. More importantly, he just loves it. Watch his runs. His ears are forward and he just loves it. I was so proud of him.” On their second run, Johnson had to be careful because Flash has as much rate as he does speed, which isn’t surprising since his pedigree is packed with the run, turn genes of First Down Dash, Special Effort, Tiny’s Gay and a bunch of other names like Major Rime, Truckle Feature and Six Fortunes that have appeared on more than one great barrel horse’s pedigree. “The more he runs, the more he wants to turn,” she said. “I’ve never ran a horse that wants to turn and rate as much as he does. I had always ridden closet-runaways that I had to pull on. I don’t have to do that on him. I just have to set him up. I had to ride him really hard my second futurity run. I had to safety up a little on that run to get by, because he wants to run hard and turn hard. He’s so quick.” They were a 14.782 on their second run to win the average. Unfortunately, later that night in the qualifier for RFD-TV’s The American, they caught a barrel. Singletary owns a video and sound company that does many of the events at AT&T Stadium, so he’d really like to see his horse run at The American. Johnson is hopeful, she can get it done. “I know if I just go clean, he’s so talented I know we can qualify,” said Johnson, who recently took her board exams to be a licensed nurse practitioner. “I think if we just keep playing it right and not over run him and get him sour. He’s definitely a horse that has huge potential and hopefully I can help him meet that potential wherever he goes.” After Ardmore, Johnson finally relented and took Flash home with her. “Luis does a really good job keeping him rode, but I wanted to see if I could improve a few little things on his runs if I spent a little more time with him,” she said. “I was only actually able to ride him two times before this race. I rode him the Saturday before and then the Monday of the race, and I think it paid off. I didn’t really school on him, but I rode him so he knew what I expected from him.” Johnson quickly added, “I’m not the trainer-type. I don’t want to ride outside horses. I’m more like helping a friend. Flash and I get along really well, and we both really enjoy each other.” Both Johnson and Singletary agree they weren’t looking for this happen, it just kind of did. “Jerry Bailey deserves a lot of credit for picking him out,” said Singletary. “Without Jerry I would never have had him. Jerry’s got a track record of having a great eye for picking a horse out. Luis Hernandez deserves a lot of credit for keeping the horse happy and healthy. Luis is the one that got him going around barrels. Wenda deserves a lot of credit for being so talented that she could pull that out of him on really a part time basis.”