Aside from Peter McCue, Uncle Jimmie Gray was the most influential Jockey Club registered sire of Quarter Horses in the early twentieth century. This small black stallion left a permanent mark on the short tracks of Texas. The pedigree of nearly every Quarter Horse alive today can be traced back to this exceptional sire of speed.
Uncle Jimmie Gray was foaled on April 13th, 1906 at the Campbell Stud Station in Minco, Oklahoma. His sire was Bonnie Joe, a bay stallion by Faustus and out of Bonnie Rose, by Bonnie Scotland. Bonnie Joe was bred by and named for Joe W. Prather of Marysville, Missouri. He was later purchased by Charles B. Campbell and became the centerpiece of his stud station in Oklahoma. Campbell knew that a short-running Thoroughbred stallion would enhance the speed and strength of his Quarter Horse mares. Bonnie Joe made Campbell legendary among breeders. He sired Joe Blair, the sire of Joe Reed, and Useeit, the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold.
Uncle Jimmie Gray would go on to become the most prolific son of Bonnie Joe. Although, there was no question as to who sired Jimmie, disagreements arose concerning which mare foaled him – Betty Campbell or Mary Hill. These types of disputes were common among short horse breeders who kept both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. Betty Campbell was a quarter mare by Bob Peters. Quarter Horse breeders tend to cite Betty as the dam of Jimmie. However, he was registered with The Jockey Club as being out of Mary Hill, by Bowling Green. Most sources consider it likely that Mary was his dam. Both Betty and Mary were first-class running mares in Campbell’s barn at the time. It will probably never be known for certain which mare foaled him, but the controversy did not compromise Jimmie’s ability to run and reproduce himself.
Jimmie was described as a black horse with a blaze and a white right hindfoot. He stood 15.1hh and weighed 1,050 pounds in his prime. Although he was small, he was muscular with substantial bone. His conformation was characterized by a short neck, big shoulder, strong back and powerful hindquarters. He was levelheaded and was not easily rattled or knocked around in races. His good manners and quiet temperament helped him outrun many opponents who may have been faster, but their coltish behavior ruined their chances against Jimmie.
According to Goodwin’s Turf Guide, Jimmie ran his first two races as a two-year-old, winning one. At three, he made seventeen starts, won nine races, and was out of the money only twice. In June of 1911, as a five-year-old, Jimmie thrilled his owner Mr. B. Wall by running 5 furlongs in :59 3/5 at Oklahoma City where he bested the field by four lengths. A week later, he beat the notorious sprinter Sam F. in a blazing come-from-behind drive. By the time Jimmie retired from racing at age twelve, he was a veteran campaigner at 5 and 5 ½ furlongs. He had raced across the U.S.A. and into Canada and Mexico. Jimmie’s jockey, Pete Hill, praised his disposition and said that the old horse knew more about running than he did. Out of 138 total recorded starts, Jimmie is listed as winning 42, placing in 26, and showing in 24. He won a total of $10,176 which is equivalent to about $150,000 today.
In 1921, Jimmie was purchased by the United States Remount Service, a government breeding program under the control of the Department of Agriculture that provided horses and mules for the United States Calvary. While owned by the Remount, he stood in Cotulla, Texas, leased by T. Hogue Poole and later in Big Foot, Texas, leased by W. F. Smith. Jimmie was then assigned to Ed Pfefferling of the Pfefferling Brother’s Horse and Mule Barn in San Antonio where he was used by Clyde Smith, Eugene Schott, and other notable breeders. The only horse as popular as Jimmie among racehorse breeders in Texas was Peter McCue. Even at twenty-three, he was being bred to as many as four mares a day during the season. In 1929, Remount inspectors determined that he had outlived his usefulness. They ordered him to be condemned but Pfefferling would not allow it. He had grown fond of the old stallion and requested to keep him. Jimmie lived with Pfefferling until he died in 1932 at the age of twenty-six.
Jimmie’s progeny dominated bull rings and short tracks during the 1920s and 30s. The speed of his offspring secured his status as one of the most prolific sires of sprinters since Janus himself. According to Bob Denhardt, people would joke that Jimmie could be bred to a boxcar and still get a racehorse. Although he died nine years before the establishment of the American Quarter Horse Association, fifty-seven of Jimmie’s sons and daughters made their way into the AQHA registry. Twenty-six of his foals were registered with The Jockey Club. Among his well-known offspring, both registered and grade, was Alamo, a record-setter and sire of Cyclone and Go Forth. His son Jiggs was an average runner but a great sire of race and performance horses including Cleggs Boy, Jiggs II, and Red Eagle. Major Speck, a Thoroughbred stallion by Jimmie and out of Pink Cheek, sired Gallant Maid, Lady Speck, and Major D. Other notable sires by Jimmie include Bay Jimmie Gray, Bull Dog, Highball, Major Gray, My Pardner, Tom Mix and Tommie Gray.
Barbara Muse, author of The Grand Twenty, wrote that the Mayflower mare was one of Jimmie’s best foals. She was bred by John Buss of Hondo, Texas and out of a Possum mare. Mayflower was black with only a small white streak between her eyes. She stood 15.2hh, weighed 1,100 pounds, and had an incredibly long stride. It took her three starts to break her maiden. She lost her first start to Medina Sport and her second to High Gear, a famous King Ranch mare. Once she matured, Mayflower was unbeatable. She won seventeen straight starts displaying superior speed from ¼ to 3/8 of a mile. She later defeated Medina Sport and High Gear and even outran Big Liz, memorably running the quarter in :21.2 seconds. Unfortunately, Mayflower never produced a foal. It was Jimmie’s other daughters that would earn him the title of leading broodmare sire.
Thoroughbreds are often strongest on the distaff side of a Quarter Horse pedigree and Jimmie was no exception. His daughters produced Ada Fields, Beautys Pal, Buddy Nile, Joe Jimmy, Juanita V, Just Sissy, Nancy Hance, and Top Expense. Manosa, a mare by Jimmie and out of Mary Roach, by Possum, produced Chain Lay, Jimmy King, and Peter Pan Dandy. Most records from the 1940s show Jimmie, not Lone Star, as the damsire of Clabber, a World Champion Quarter Racing Horse and AQHA Hall of Fame inductee. In 1947, Jimmie topped the list of Maternal Grandsires of Horses Listed in Register of Merit in the Year Book of the American Quarter Racing Association. He was also listed in over two-hundred pedigrees in the National Quarter Horse Breeders Association stud book. Jimmie is easily one of the most influential Thoroughbred sires of Quarter Horses of all time.
Sources: Equibase, Equineline, National Quarter Horse Breeders Permanent Stud Book, Champions of the Quarter Tracks, Foundation Sires of the American Quarter Horse, Quarter Horses: A Story of Two Centuries, The Quarter Running Horse, The Grand Twenty, War Horse: Mounting the Calvary with America’s Finest Horses