The Western Thoroughbred History: Top Deck

Top Deck had a tremendous impact on the Quarter Horse industry. He is typically considered to be the second most prolific Thoroughbred sire of Quarter Horses behind only Three Bars. He was injured as a foal and had it not been for the keen eye of a wealthy oilman, Top Deck could have fallen into obscurity. Through the luck of the draw, this notoriously rank stallion became one of eleven Thoroughbreds in the AQHA Hall of Fame.

Top Deck was foaled in 1945. He was by Equestrian, a race-winning son of Equipoise. Equipoise won 29 races including the Metropolitan Handicap, Arlington Gold Cup and Whitney Stakes. He was the 1930 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt, 1932, 1933 and 1934 Champion Handicap Horse, and 1932 and 1933 Horse of the Year. After just four seasons at stud, Equipoise died at the age of ten due to an intestinal infection. His offspring were extremely successful on the track. Most notably, Shut Out, won the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Equipoise posthumously became a leading sire in North America. He was inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame in 1957.

A photo of Equipoise, the grand sire of Top Deck, via Pedigree Query.

Robert Kleberg Jr., manager of the King Ranch in Texas, had followed Equipoise throughout his racing career. He wanted to stand one of his sons in Texas. With that purpose, Kleberg purchased Equestrian. The chestnut stallion sired several successful racehorses for the King Ranch including Stymie, the 1945 Champion Handicap Horse. Unfortunately, much like his sire, Equestrian died young. He was only ten years old when he succumbed to Eastern Equine Encephalitis, also known as equine sleeping sickness. Before his death, Equestrian was bred to River Boat. That pairing would preserve his legacy in the western industry forever.

Photo of Chicaro, the dam sire of Top Deck, via the King Ranch Quarter Horses.

River Boat was by Chicaro, one of the King Ranch’s most influential Thoroughbred stallions. She was out of Last Boat, a race-winning daughter of Sir Gallahad III. River Boat was unplaced on the track, but she produced successful starters River Trade and Undercurrent. Through both of his parents, Top Deck was related to Man o’ War, Peter Pan, Broomstick, Commando and Ben Brush. He may have inherited their great speed, but he also inherited the misfortune of his sire line. When Top Deck was just a foal, he was kicked in the knee. He would never be sound to race or compete.

Photo of Top Deck via the Quarter Horse Journal.

After Top Deck was injured, the King Ranch either gave him away or sold him for a low price. Regardless, the royally bred colt ended up with Ernest Lane, a good friend of Kleberg. When the ranch’s longtime veterinarian, Dr. J. K. Northway, signed Top Deck’s transfer papers to Lane, he felt compelled to contact J. B. Ferguson, a wealthy oilman and horse breeder. Ferguson must have liked what Northway had to say about Top Deck, because he bought the unsound and unproven stallion for a reported $25,000, the equivalent of about $300,000 today.

“Anyone who knew my grandfather will tell you that he had an unbelievable knack for recognizing quality horseflesh,” said Kip Attaway, Ferguson’s grandson, to Western Horseman. “It was like something magic. He could look, and he would know. It was like an extra sense for him. He took a gamble when he paid $25,000 for Top Deck. It was a risk, but I don’t think it was much of a risk for him as it would have been for someone else.” Ferguson likely developed his special feel for horses as a child. His father was a humble sharecropper and he had grown up riding horses everywhere. With Ferguson as his owner, Top Deck was finally delt a good hand.

Another photo of Top Deck via Western Horseman.

Top Deck moved to Ferguson’s J Bar F Ranch southwest of Houston. His first foal crop arrived in 1948. Among his first foals was Stardeck F, a brown Quarter Horse filly out of Ferguson’s Quarter Horse mare Skippy F, who was by the Thoroughbred stallion Benish Way. Stardeck F won 13 races including the Del Rio Futurity, Del Rio Derby and Lincoln County Stakes. She also set a new track record in the Debutante Stakes at Ruidoso Downs for 330 yards in 17.400 seconds. Stardeck F earned a Superior Race Horse Award in 1954. Despite the success of his first foals, Top Deck did not attract many mares initially. Ferguson moved him to A. B. Green’s ranch in Purcell, Oklahoma where he thought the stallion would receive more attention. He was right.

In 1953, Top Deck’s greatest son, Go Man Go, was foaled. Go Man Go was out of Lightfootsis, an unraced Quarter Horse mare that Ferguson had purchased in Louisiana for just $300. As a two-year-old, Go Man Go won nine of ten starts including the Juvenile Championship and PCQHRA Futurity. That year he was named the AQHA Racing Champion Two-Year-Old Colt and World Champion Horse. At three, Go Man Go won ten starts including the Wonder Lad Stakes, State Fair Stallion Stakes, Clabbertown G Handicap, Gold Bar Stakes and Autumn Championship. He also set a new track record in the Barbara B Handicap at Los Alamitos for 400 yards in 20.100 seconds and a new track record in the Champion Stakes at Ruidoso Downs for 440 yards in 22.200 seconds. He was the 1956 High Money Earning Horse, AQHA Racing Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and World Champion Horse.

A stallion advertisement for Go Man Go via All Breed Database.

Go Man Go earned his third World Championship title after lowering his track record at Ruidoso to 21.800 seconds in the 1957 Maturity Stakes. That time would stand as the world record for several years. He continued racing until he was six years old. He retired with a record of 47 starts, 27 wins, nine seconds, three thirds and $89,150 in earnings. As a sire, Go Man Go was outstanding. He sired seven Champion Quarter Running Horses – Goetta, Go Josie Go, Dynago Miss, Steam To Go, Duplicate Copy, Whataway To Go and Go Derussa Go. His get earned $7,631,518 on the track. He also sired four Superior Performance Award-earners and two Superior Halter Award-earners. His top performers were Anaman, Go Andy Go, Go Lad Go, Go Lindy Go, Go Mobile, Mr Meyers, Shanghai Pierce and Story Man. Go Man Go passed away in 1982 and was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 1990.

Moon Deck, a brown stallion out of Moonlight Night, was another AQHA Hall of Fame inductee by Top Deck. Moon Deck was foaled on March 28th, 1950 at Ferguson’s ranch in Texas. Moon Deck won 11 races, including the New Mexico State Fair Derby and Los Alamitos Invitational Handicap. Moon Deck, like many of Top Deck’s sons, was said to be hard to handle. “I always called Moon Deck an outlaw,” said Joan Attaway to Western Horseman. “He would flip in the gate and do just about anything else… [Top Deck] never sired anything that was easy to control.” After six years on the track, Moon Deck went on to sire 343 registered Quarter Horse foals. He became a leading sire and leading broodmare sire. Among his best starters were Caprideck, Jet Deck, Cank Deck, Tom Lyndon and Top Moon. He also sired AQHA Champions Inmoon Deck and Solar Fancy. Moon Deck died from colic in 1974 at 24 years old.

Top Deck’s other racing champions were Ridge Butler, Rebel Cause, Top Ladybug, Mighty Deck and Decketta. His track record setters include Miss Top Flame, Milady Liz, Rhonda Creel, Top Bidder, Amber’s Star, El Producto, April Deck, Top Cat, Antler’s Trade, Eagle Top, Pal’s Top Deck, Glory Be Good and Ship Deck. Other stakes winners by Top Deck include Barbara 3, Rapid Deck, Mackay Boy, Stepping Star, Miss Deck, Top Machine, Top Cris, Miss Mackay, Red Top Trouble and Lookie Here Boy. In total, Top Deck sired 465 Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse foals in 19 foal crops. Among them were 248 race winners, 219 Racing ROM-earners, 26 stakes winners, 21 Superior Race Award-earners and six champions, with earnings of $2,00,225 on the track.

A photo of Glory Be Good, a brown stallion by Top Deck and out of Jenny L, by Chicaro Bill, via All Breed Database.

Top Deck was a leading sire of racing ROM-earners. There was no question that he could sire speed, but his offspring excelled in off-track careers too. He sired 17 halter point-earners and 21 performance point-earners. His show ROM-earners include Alfo Deck, Bray’s Lady Deck, Dimple Deck, Dixielena, Kansas Deck, Lou Deck, Top Deck Anna, Top Green and Top Tyke. His most notable performers were Astro Deck and War Machine. Astro Deck was a sorrel stallion out of Flo St Jo, a buckskin mare by Reed McCue. He was bred by Dr. Robert Sukman in Oklahoma. Astro Deck won five races before he started his performance career. He competed in halter, tie down roping, western pleasure, team roping and western riding. Astro Deck won the AQHA Supreme Champion award in 1968. Much like Astro Deck, War Machine ran on the track prior to competing in performance events. War Machine was a brown stallion bred by the Red Bee Ranch. He was out of La Machine, a bay Quarter Horse mare by the Thoroughbred stallion Green Flash. War Machine earned the 1979 AQHA Supreme Champion award for his accomplishments in halter, western pleasure, hunter under saddle, team roping and tie down roping. Both Astro Deck and War Machine became popular sires. War Machine was even a leading barrel horse broodmare sire in the 1990s.

A photo of Chick’s Etta Deck via All Breed Database. Chick’s Etta Deck was a full brother to Kansas Futurity winner Chick’s Deck. They were by Three Chicks and out of Decketta, by Top Deck.

Most of Top Deck’s sons were successful in the breeding shed. His Thoroughbred sons Ariel Deck, Top Dutch and Top Spot sired Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Paints and Appaloosas. Some of his most prolific Quarter Horse sons were Black Deck, Brisk Deck, Decka Center, Mr Twig, On Deck, Rillito Deck, Skip Deck, Speck Deck, Stan the Man, Top Bracket, Top Breeze, Top Decker, Top Fugitive, Top Gain, War Deck and Wild Deck. His Quarter Horse son Top Money earned money on the track and in the NCHA before siring AQHA Champions Money Mad and Take Notice. His Appaloosa son Ledge Deck sired champion Appaloosas in the United States and Australia.

A photo of Whim, an AQHA Champion Stallion by Poco Nino and out of Mee Chon, by Top Deck, via All Breed Database.

Between 1962 and 1963, Top Deck’s reputation as a sire of sires was cemented. During those racing seasons, Jet Deck, by Moon Deck, won the Juvenile Championship, Los Alamitos Futurity, Kindergarten Futurity, Los Alamitos Championship and Ruidoso Derby; Goetta, by Go Man Go, won the All American Futurity, Bardella Handicap and Los Alamitos Futurity; and Hustling Man, by Go Man Go, won the All American Futurity. It was unprecedented for one sire to have three grandget earn nearly $500,000 total in that timeframe. In addition to the accomplishments of his sons as sires, Top Deck’s daughters were also exceptional producers. He was a leading broodmare sire of racing ROM-earners. His daughters also produced halter and performance horses. Some of the best horses out of Top Deck mares were Chick’s Deck, Fletch’s Top Riker, Monumental, Mr. Expectation, My Talent, Top Don, Top Rockette, Tuffernhel and Whim.

In 1965, Top Deck became ill. Ferguson flew to Oklahoma and hired a team of veterinarians, but the old stallion could not be saved. By that time, Green had purchased a half-interest in Top Deck so he was buried at Green Pastures. Top Deck was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame alongside Go Man Go in 1990. His influence on the western industry is incalculable as he can be found in the pedigree of nearly every Quarter Horse alive today.

Sources: Equineline, Equibase, Western Horseman, The Quarter Horse Journal, American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum

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