High Brow Cat sale signals industry shift

High Brow Cat

Gail Bennison Special to the Business Press

It is said that timing is everything. Such was the case in late January when the reins changed hands on a legendary quarter horse named High Brow Cat. The 25-year-old sorrel stallion, leading sire of cutting horses, and the second-leading sire of all quarter horses, was sold by Jack Waggoner, the industry’s leading breeder, to Colt Ventures, a Dallas investment company owned by Darren and Julie Blanton. The sale was months in the making and transacted privately with an undisclosed purchase price. “People are guessing on the actual sale price,” Darren Blanton said. “I’ll tell you that it’s between $5 million and $10 million, and that’s for everything.” The deal includes the 500-acre Waggoner Ranch in Bridgeport, along with equipment and buildings, and more than 100 head of Waggoner-branded horses, including 22-year-old stallion Smart Aristocrat and a High Brow Cat clone due this year. Also included is the remaining inventory of High Brow Cat’s valuable frozen semen. The stallion was found to be infertile at 22, in the beginning of the 2010 breeding season and was diagnosed with age-related testicular degeneration. “The clone is going to be born in July if it all works out,” Blanton said. “Jack tells me he’s swimming around like crazy in the womb and is a happy camper.” The clone was not factored into the purchase, he said. “It’s kind of a down-the-road thing that we hope works out. Our excitement is about the portfolio of High Brow Cat’s babies and promoting the sport of cutting.”

$50 million mark “High Brow Cat is the first cutting horse stallion to see his progeny’s earnings pass the $50 million mark,” said Ernie Beutenmiller Jr., president of the National Cutting Horse Association. “As the sire of a record seven NCHA Futurity champions, he has put his stamp on the athletes, which shows the public what our exciting sport is all about.” High Brow Cat’s sire was High Brow Hickory and his dam was Smart Little Kitty, a mare by Smart Little Lena, the Western performance horse industry’s No. 2 leading sire, with offspring earnings of $41 million. High Brow Cat competed in cutting competition from 1991 through 1995, earning $126,252. He was named NCHA/American Quarter Horse Association Sire of the Year for 10 consecutive years from 2003 through 2012. At the elite NCHA “triple crown” events held in Fort Worth – the NCHA Futurity, NCHA Super Stakes and NCHA Summer Spectacular – High Brow Cat’s offspring have won $18 million. Not only did he sire the champion of the recent 2012 NCHA Open Futurity, but he also sired three of the top four finishers. Cutting as a sport originated from cattle ranches, where it’s a cutting horse’s job to separate (or cut) a cow from a herd for vaccinations or branding, for example. Eventually competitions arose between the best cutting horses and riders. The first cutting horse competition was held in Haskell in West Texas at the end of the 1800s. The contests grew and a group of owners formed an organization to establish a set of rules and regulations. In 1946 the National Cutting Horse Association, now located in Fort Worth, was founded. Cutting as an equestrian sport is where the horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single cow from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short time period. It is a fast-growing sport, and the prize money for NCHA-approved events is bountiful. Any breed of stock horse can be used as long as it has an innate “cow sense” and the ability to make sharp turns and respond to training, but the American quarter horse is most commonly used. Careful breeding is critical to having a profitable cutting horse. Blanton recently conducted cutting clinics for “wealthy people from up north and from the West Coast. We brought in men from several cities who had never ridden,” he said. “We bought them hats and boots, put them on a horse, and taught them cutting. This is part of the business development we’re going to do for this sport. We want to bring people in from outside our culture. They really enjoy it.” Waggoner found success in the hospitality and insurance businesses before getting involved with cutting horses. He bought High Brow Cat in 1988 from the horse’s breeders, Hanes Chatham and Stewart Sewell. The colt’s mother was included in the deal. Waggoner, 72, spent two decades building High Brow Cat’s breeding career, and selling the stallion was bittersweet. “You know, I played football and I watched sports and athletics, and there was always the fella that stayed on too long,” Waggoner said. “I didn’t want to be him. I met Darren, and he’s been successful in everything he’s done, and he’s very enthused about High Brow Cat. I’ve spent nearly a quarter-century with High Brow Cat and those have been the best years of my life,” he said. “But now I’ve got some health concerns and it was just time, time to let this special horse continue on with a new owner who could put the time, investment and energy into the High Brow Cat brand. It’s what this great stallion deserves.” Waggoner continued: “The Blantons have tremendous respect and experience that allows High Brow Cat some new opportunities, while preserving the brand.”

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Biotechnology, energy Colt Ventures has played major roles in the biotechnology and oil and natural gas industries. Darren and Julie Blanton have been involved with the cutting industry for more than a decade and horses they’ve owned or shown have won $1.4 million. Darren has more than 22 years of investment experience and has invested in more than 100 private companies across every stage of corporate finance. This new investment will advance the Blantons’ breeding and showing operations. “I believe that a wise man seeks many counselors,” Blanton said. “So I felt like we needed to have a group of advisers that were donating experts across every aspect of the horse industry, whether it be training, showing, the legal issues of breeding, and all the different things that go along with registering and owing a stud, along with the sale process. I understand that I have a legacy to maintain. I am here to make sure High Brow Cat is breeding mares and breeding winners for many more years.” To that end, he has assembled an impressive team to help maintain the High Brow Cat legacy. They also will help Blanton with the management of the daily operations that go along with owning a stallion of this caliber, he said. The team includes a longtime friend and financial advisor, Chad Bushaw, who is among the most accomplished non-professional cutting competitors in the world, having earned $2.9 million. Bushaw and his wife, Amie, own Crown Ranch, and for more than 20 years Chad has immersed himself in all aspects of the cutting horse business, including breeding, training and competing. “For as long as I’ve known Darren, he has always been a great visionary on trends in business, with an uncanny ability to spot them and react to them long before they are common thinking,” Bushaw said. Texas cutting horse trainer and longtime friend Jason Clark connected Waggoner with Blanton. Clark is among the top cutting horse professionals in the performance horse industry, with $1.8 million in posted earnings. “Jason and I worked together to figure out this deal,” Blanton said. “And I cannot think of a better person to be involved with on the future of this special stallion.” Clark will have an equity interest in the venture going forward. He also trains for cutting horse breeder and competitor David McDavid. “I’m very excited about this whole deal,” Clark said. “We started months ago working on this and it’s world class. There’s not anything comparable.” Team member Milt Bradford is co-owner of Western Bloodstock, the operation recognized as the premier sales company in the Western performance horse world. The company is the official sales company of the NCHA and every year auctions horses that total $10 million to $20 million. Bradford, who has been dubbed the quarterback of Blanton’s dream team, was included because of the approximately 100 Waggoner Ranch horses that Blanton plans to market this year. “Having Milt involved will give us the understanding and reality check of what these horses are really worth,” Blanton said. “He is a no-nonsense, knowledgeable, awesome guy, and we’re lucky to have him on this team. Milt has shed a lot of light on how to manage this process, how to monetize the existing things and how to think about this business.” Business attorney and avid rancher Lew Stevens runs his own law office with a focus on business, ranch and equine law. He breeds, owns and shows horses, raises cattle and grows hay. His hands-on approach to ranching mirrors his personal touch in legal representation. “Lew is coaching me on what we do to move forward,” Blanton said. High Brow Cat will continue to stand as a stud at Weatherford Equine Breeding, a premier equine care facility in Weatherford. Team adviser and veterinarian Justin Ritthaler has overseen the breeding of High Brow Cat for 10 years. His expertise is in treating performance horse issues and managing mares and stallions during the breeding season, during late winter or early spring. Blanton says that not much will change with High Brow Cat, and that he will do everything possible to ensure the continued good health and longevity of the stallion. All re-breeds and mares booked already for 2013 will be honored, Blanton says. He and his team are determining how many other mares would be considered for this coming year. “Because the supply of semen is finite, we are going to preserve the legacy the best we can by only breeding the most proven producing mares and the top show mares in the industry. We want to make sure that the mares bred to him in the future are the absolute top quality,” he said. All mares will be bred by artificial insemination via intracytoplasmic sperm injection with frozen semen. This process involves eggs recovered from a mare being injected with individual sperm from a stallion. Embryos develop in a laboratory for about one week and then are shipped to a private embryo transfer facility, to be implanted into a recipient mare that will eventually give birth to the foal. Blanton plans to optimize semen and make it safer for mare owners through one of his pharmaceutical companies, Halozyme Therapeutics, but his ultimate dream would be to re-grow High Brow Cat’s testicles and have him produce again, he said. “We’ve done a lot of stem cell therapeutics. This is a total pie-in-the-sky idea maybe, but I’d like to try it. I have a friend at Wake Forest [University] who grew a human bladder with stem cells. He’s going to be one of the first guys I call.”

Cat’s impact High Brow Cat’s extraordinary impact on the industry is well known in the cutting horse world. He has sired 1,323 foals that have won almost $58 million in cutting, reining and reined cow horse competition. Five foals have each earned $500,000 or more, while 166 have posted winnings of at least $100,000 each. Sixty-seven percent of his show-age quarter horse and paint horse foals have earned show money. Dont Look Twice, a 2005 mare, won the NCHA Open World Championship, becoming High Brow Cat’s No. 1 money earner with $764,637 won. Dont Look Twice is the cutting industry’s all-time leading mare and she was named 2011 NCHA Horse of the Year. His second-leading six-figure earning baby is Metallic Cat, a 2005 stallion with earnings of $637,711, including the championship of the 2008 NCHA Futurity. High Brow Cat also sired 2000 mare Boon San Kitty, a 2004 NCHA Horse of the Year, and the only Horse of the Year to produce an NCHA Futurity champion. She is the mother of Rocking W, the 2010 NCHA Open Futurity Champion, and of All Boon, 2007 Western Bloodstock Highest Selling Yearling. Boon San Kitty was bred by cutting horse rancher and Walmart heiress Alice Walton at her Rocking W Ranch in Millsap. The great mare’s earnings of $565,504 place her as third-leading of High Brow Cat’s foals. Her offspring have earned more than $334,000. Walton recently sold Boon San Kitty and her full sister RW SallyCat to Peggy Youngblood, owner of Circle Y Ranch in Millsap. “They were related to everything that I have, so it makes it difficult [for breeding],” Walton said regarding selling her two great broodmares. “That’s how I’ve always managed it, as long as I find them a great home where I know they will be loved and taken care of. I’ve got the next generation coming up and I’m focusing on them.” Of High Brow Cat, Walton said: “Well, he’s just the finest stallion in the history of the business, without question, hands down. He doesn’t have a big show record, and so often a show record isn’t necessarily what makes a good stud. Great studs are a very special thing when they’re at his level.”

Feb. 2, 2013