The Western Thoroughbred History: Lena’s Bar

Lena’s Bar was foaled on March 1st, 1954 in Sayre, Oklahoma. She was bred and owned her entire life by AQHA Hall of Fame member Walter Merrick. Merrick was a short horse breeder, which meant that he bred horses to race short distances, specifically between 200 and 350 yards. He also owned and trained many Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racehorses. Merrick knew that he needed to introduce Thoroughbred bloodlines to his program to stretch his runners out to the classic quarter mile distance. He leased Three Bars from Sid Vail and stood him in Oklahoma where he became the all-time greatest sire of Quarter Horses.

In 1951, Eldon Cluck brought Merrick a Thoroughbred mare to train. The mare, Lena Valenti, would become the founding matriarch of a great line of Quarter Horse racehorses. She was by Gray Dream and out of Perhobo, by Percentage. Lena Valenti had won three races from 41 official starts when Merrick took over her training. He ran her on the Thoroughbred tracks but during a race meet in Enid, Oklahoma, they needed to fill a 440-yard Quarter Horse race. Merrick entered Lena Valenti and she won. Because the race was sanctioned by the American Quarter Racing Association before the organization consolidated with the AQHA, she earned an AA rating and a Register of Merit.

A photo of Lena Valenti, the dam of Lena’s Bar, from Wire to Wire: The Walter Merrick Story

Cluck sold Lena Valenti to Merrick after she made her final start. At that time, Merrick was leasing Three Bars. He bred Lena Valenti to Three Bars but she failed to get in foal. Unfortunately, Vail had agreed to lease Three Bars to Merrick for two years but had changed his mind and taken the stallion back to Tucson, Arizona. Merrick was determined to cross the pair, so he hauled Lena Valenti from Oklahoma to Arizona to have her re-bred. In 1954, the resulting foal, Lena’s Bar, hit the ground back in Oklahoma. By that time, the AQRA had been completely absorbed by the AQHA. With a new organization governing Quarter Horse racing, New Mexico became the only state to allow Thoroughbreds to run in Quarter Horse races. However, Thoroughbreds were still prohibited from entering Quarter Horse futurities. Therefore, Merrick did not start conditioning Lena’s Bar for racing until she was three years old.

“Lena’s Bar wasn’t a big mare,” Merrick told Frank Holmes, author of Wire to Wire: The Walter Merrick Story. “but she was a well-made, pretty thing.” For five years, that pretty mare dominated tracks across New Mexico. In 1957, she won four starts, earned her AAA rating, and equaled the track record at Albuquerque for 400 yards in 20.300 seconds. As a four-year-old, Lena’s Bar won four more races including the C. L. Maddon’s Bright Eyes Handicap and Buttons and Bows Stakes. She also placed third in the Shue Fly Stakes.

At age five, Lena’s Bar had her best year of racing. She won the Bright Eyes Stakes and set new track record at Sunland Park for 350 yards in 17.900 seconds. She ran her greatest race on August 16th, 1959, in the Miller Motel Allowance at Ruidoso Downs. In that race, she defeated four AQHA Champions – Go Man Go, Double Bid, Vandy’s Flash and Vanetta Dee. Lena’s Bar continued racing until she was seven years old. She retired sound. In total, Lena’s Bar made 76 starts, won 24 races, and earned $28,311, the equivalent of about $285,000 today.

Photo of Lena’s Bar from 1960

In 1962, Lena’s Bar joined Merrick’s broodmare band. He bred her to Double Bid, the 1959 World Champion Racing American Quarter Horse who she had defeated in the Miller Motel Allowance. The resulting foal, Double Dancer, was a chestnut colt. Merrick turned down an offer of $25,000 for him when he was a weanling. He won one race and earned a Register of Merit. After Double Dancer retired from racing, he was leased by Hank Wiescamp as an outcross for his Old Fred mares. “The reason I wanted Double Dancer was on account of his mother, Lena’s Bar,” Wiescamp told Larry Thornton for Speedhorse Magazine. “Lena’s Bar was the greatest breeding daughter of Three Bars. Wasn’t one close to her.” Double Dancer’s progeny included stakes winners Double Your Dough, Tri Dancer, Scotch Double, Beauty Dancer and Miss Double Lena.

A photo of Double Dancer from Wire to Wire: The Walter Merrick Story

Delta Rose, the second foal out of Lena’s Bar, was foaled in 1964. Delta Rose was a chestnut filly by Tonto Bars Hank, a two-time AQHA Racing Champion. She made 16 starts and won three races. Delta Rose also placed second in the Golden Spread Derby, LAM Kansas Derby and New Mexico Breeders’ Derby. In total, Delta Rose earned $12,794 on the track. In 1967, she earned three halter points when she was shown at the Dallas State Fair and took first in a class of seventeen three-year-old mares. Delta Rose went on to produce five foals. The best of which, Byou Bird, was the 1972 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly. Byou Bird won 13 races including the Blue Ribbon Futurity, West Texas Futurity, Kansas Futurity and Oklahoma Futurity. She earned $309,965 on the track. After Byou Bird retired from racing, she produced stakes winner and sire, I Get By, who is double bred to Lena’s Bar. Delta Rose also produced race winners Oh Johney and Quick Stride.

Photo of I Get By, a great-grandson of Lena’s Bar through his second dam, Delta Rose, via All Breed Database

Lena’s Bar was the first mare bred to Jet Deck. Jet Smooth, a chestnut colt, was born the following spring. Jet Smooth won Kansas Futurity and World’s Championship Classic. He also set a new track record in the All American Congress Derby at Beulah Park for 400 yards in 20.400 seconds. In total, Jet Smooth won 11 races and earned $79,089 on the track. Jet Smooth also became an AQHA Champion at halter. He accumulated many of his 26 halter points while he was racing. Jet Smooth went on to sire 348 racing ROM-earners and 18 performance ROM-earners. His get earned over $2.5 million on the track. Notable offspring of Jet Smooth include Smooth Coin, A Smooth Request, Smooth Herman, Smooth Painted Jet and Smooth Dancer. Jet Smooth was also an exceptional broodmare sire. His daughters produced 34 stakes winners and earners of over $5.1 million.

Lena’s Bar returned to Tonto Bars Hank to produce her 1966 foal, Mayflower Ann. This sorrel filly made 23 starts, won ten races and earned $18,947 on the track. She also placed second in the Sunland Park Fall Futurity, Juvenile Handicap and Lubbock Downs Derby. Mayflower Ann produced 12 foals with only three ROM earners. Her best starter, Talladega, won the Au Revoir Handicap and earned $28,327 on the track. Hawthorn, a sorrel stallion out of Mayflower Ann, sired 1D barrel horses. Her daughter Mayflower Moon produced Sweet Illusion, a multiple stakes winner. Sweet Illusion produced Sweet Advice, the dam of Best Advice, winner of the 2004 Kansas Derby.  Venice Ann, another daughter of Mayflower Ann, produced Venice, the dam of the 1997 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, Fabulous Form. Venice Ann also produced Primativo, a successful sire in Argentina.

Best Advice is a great-grandson of Lena’s Bar through his third dam, Delta Rose.

Lena’s Bar saved her best foal for last. In 1967, she foaled Easy Jet, a full brother to Jet Smooth. Easy Jet won the Blue Ribbon Futurity, Columbus Triple Crown Futurity, Lubbock Down Futurity, Kansas Futurity, All American Futurity, Laddie Stakes, Rocky Mountain QHA Futurity, Sunland Park Fall Futurity, Raton Derby, Rocky Mountain QHA Derby and Colorado Wonderland Handicap. He was the 1969 High Money Earning Horse, AQHA Racing Champion-Two-Year-Old and World Champion Racing American Quarter Horse. In 1970, he was the Champion Three-Year-Old and World Champion again. In total, Easy Jet made 38 starts, won 27 races, and earned $445,723 on the track. He went on to sire 2,507 registered foals that earned over $26 million on the track. Easy Jet was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 1968, at the age of 14, Lena’s Bar died from a bladder infection just a few months after Easy Jet was weaned. No expense was spared trying to save the mare but nothing worked. Her five foals were all winners and earned a total of $557,199 on the track. She was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 2003. No Thoroughbred mare was more accomplished in Quarter Horse racing until Little Lena Bars, a full-sister to Lena’s Bar, set records at nearly every distance. But that’s a story for another time!

Sources: Equineline, Equibase, Speedhorse Magazine, Western Horseman Legends, Wire to Wire: The Walter Merrick Story, All Breed Database

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