From THE AMERICAN QUARTER HORSE RACING JOURNAL, February 2004
EVEN MORE THAN MOST, MEMBERS OF ROYALTY, like to hang around, influencing generations. Take Queen Victoria, who ruled Britannia from 1837 until her death in1901. We were not amused, of course –straight-laced but weary Britons, through the second half of the Victorian Age, must have wondered whether their humorless old Highness would ever die. She did, inevitably, her great-great-great-grandson Charlesnow awaiting his turn on the throne.
Which isn’t so very different from equine royalty. Take Oak Tree Special, the 52nd world champion racing American Quarter Horse. The 4-year-old stallion by Special Task is a fourth-generation descendant of FL Lady Bug, one of the registry’s first and greatest blue hens. A double-bred Billy McCue mare bred by W.A. Yeager, FL Lady Bug was by Sergeant out of Yeager’s Lady JA, a never-broke daughter of Will Stead who also produced the Rebel Cause mare Twayna. Foaled in 1945, FL Lady Bug was a grand champion weanling at Oklahoma State University, but never raced and produced the first of her 14 foals in 1949. Of those, 11 would race and 10 would win, though she didn’t really get rolling as a mama until 1958, when Marvin and Lela Barnes bought her for $1,000. The couple established the Lady Bug Ranch near Ada, Oklahoma, bucking ranching economics that four times would force them to sell their beloved “Lady Bug.” They bought her back each time.
“Lady Bug was a sweetheart, just had the best disposition in the world, the best horse to fool with you could ever imagine,” says Marvin, who is pointing three of her descendants to this year’s Blue Ribbon Futurity (G2). “Same way with her foals, too: They had a lot of life to them, but you could do anything you wanted with them. They were great – racing, rodeo, barrel racing, whatever. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Under the Barnes’ care, FL Lady Bug became a matron of historic proportions, producing 1963 Columbus Futurity winner Lady Bug Leo, and ’66 Oklahoma and Rainbow Futurity winner Top Ladybug. In 1967, her daughter Barne’s Ladybug finished third in Laico Bird’s All American Futurity, and the following year, her son Lady Bug’s Moonscored in the Kansas Futurity.
This is royalty? Consider that in 1968 alone,
three starters in the All American were family. Lady Bug’s Moon finished second by a nose behind Three Oh’s, while granddaughters Top Bug and Ralph’s Lady Bug ran third and fourth. The All American has been Bugged many times since, with Lady Bug’s Moon’s champion son Bugs Alive In 75 winning in ’75 (go figure), and Mr Master Bug and Miss Squaw Hand – both out of daughters of Lady Bug’s Moon – in 1982 becoming the first stablemates to finish 1-2 in the Labor Day classic, Mr Master Bug becoming the first horse of any breed to win $1 million in a single race.
Royalty? In a registry of more than 5 million, AQHA through 2003 had recorded 101,481 horses that trace to FL Lady Bug. That’s about 2 percent of the total population of Permanent and Appendix horses – and they include 52 champions with 86 titles, beginning with Top Ladybug in ’66 and now including AB What A Runner, Hawkish and Royal Time Classic.
Royalty? Consider that First Down Dash is out of First Prize Rose, whose dam was a winning daughter of Lady Bug’s Moon (who sired the earners of more than $4 million. Consider, too, that First Down Dash exhibits much more the phenotype of his bottom side than his top). The genetic influence of FL Lady Bug, if anything, will continue spreading – carrying her blood is leading freshman sire Okey Dokey Dale, the First Down Dash stallion who was champion sophomore colt in ’99.
Royalty? How about the next generation? FL Lady Bug’s great-great-grandson Oak Tree Special awaits his official coronation next month in Reno, Nevada.
“I think,” Barnes says, “that FL Lady Bug was the best mare in the world, period.” The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.