Appaloosa Stallion

Registration:  ApHC #466666
Foaled:  April 15, 1988
Color:  Dark bay or brown

Houston Jet - Appaloosa stallion
Houston Jet
"Four-wheel drive"

(photo courtesy Appaloosa Journal)

In the business of breeding racehorses, the obvious object is speed. Correct conformation, a fabulous pedigree, good disposition and a splash of color are all nice extras, but let's face it. Finding a stallion that combines all of those characteristics in one complete package is like looking for a needle in a haystack. John Gill of Clinton, Utah, believes he's found that needle in the haystack. His name is Houston Jet.

Houston Jet epitomizes the Appaloosa racehorse. The flashy 1988 stud has it all -- a stellar race record, outstanding conformation with Appaloosa color, a fabulous pedigree and most importantly, the ability to pass it all on to his foals. Luckily, Houston Jet has also had the support of a few key individuals who've helped him become one of the top 10 stallions in the nation.

Lots of potential

Houston Jet's story starts in 1989, when the then yearling resided at the Enid, Oklahoma, ranch of his breeder, Okie Cattle Company. At a ranch sale, top Appaloosa trainer Lewis Wartchow was scouting new prospects for his clients, David and Susan Mackie. One of the horses he looked at was Houston Jet.

"We really liked his looks," recalls Lewis. "He was well bred and had color and we felt like a lot of potential as far as running, and then possibly later as a sire. He was just one of the most magnificently bred horses in the country -- an own son of Easy Jet (AQHA) and out of a real good Moon Lark Appaloosa mare."

There was no doubting Lewis' judgement; Houston Jet's pedigree is indeed second to none. Easy Jet's a legend in his own breed and a stallion who had a dramatic influence on the Appaloosa racehorse. He sired only 26 registered Appaloosa foals, but those offspring include the likes of Easy We Go ($92,375 in earnings and a top racehorse sire), Go Easy Lovin' (two-time champion filly) and four-time stakes winner Comin' Easy.

Own his dam's side, Houston Jet is out of Moon E Rooz, an Appaloosa daughter of another world champion Quarter Horse, Moon Lark. Despite being a minor stakes winner of only $4,411, Moon E Rooz possessed a pedigree that was destined to produce speed. Her dam, Wildrooz, finished third in both the Texas and World Wide futurities before foaling such outstanding racehorses as Viking Song, Streakin Moon, Wild 'N' Lucky and Wild Easy Jet. Viking Song, a 1977 mare by Vikingson, won an astounding seven stakes races and placed in three others while earning $52,780 and a bronze medallion. Streakin Moon, a full brother to Moon E Rooz, was a stakes-placed winner of $13,939, while Wild 'N' Lucky and Wild Easy Jet were both multiple winners.

An incredible start

Houston Jet also had a full brother, Turnoutthelights, who was a South-Central Regional Champion in 1990. Turnoutthelights won the Kansas Sunflower Classic Futurity in 1989, one year before Houston Jet accomplished the same feat. While Houston Jet's pedigree exuded speed, only time would tell if the colt had inherited that talent. Lewis and the Mackies didn't have to wait long, as Houston Jet began burning up the track from his very first start.

"We had him and A Mean Individual, and they both surfaced as the top two running Appaloosas in the state of Oklahoma, and then later nationwide, for the Quarter Horse distances," says Lewis. "In Houston Jet's first race, the Cricket Bars Futurity, he won his trial and then ran second in the finals to A Mean Individual. Next was the Kansas Futurity, and he won that one and A Mean Individual was thrid. Then we split the two horses up, and we kept Houston Jet in Oklahoma for the Supreme Futurity and sent A Mean Individual to the Worldwide Futurity in Albuquerque. We were able to win both races. That was quite a thrill."

Houston Jet won a total of eight of 12 starts as a 2-year-old while earning $45,381 and a bronze medallion. His two stakes wins and three stakes placings were enough to earn him the honor of Champion Sprint Colt in 1990, as well as a South-Central Regional Championship. While there's no doubt his speed was impressive, Houston Jet stands out in Lewis' mind for another unique and valuable trait.

"He was almost like training a gelding," Lewis said. "We'd sometimes tease just before they'd load in the starting gates, 'Well that pony horse there is sure being quiet,'" jokes Lewis, referring to Houston Jet's calm nature. "He was always real laid back, but when he got in the gates, he'd leave them and really run."

Juvenile retirement

Because of his proven race record and his increasing potential as a sire, Houston Jet was retired at the end of his juvenile campaign and sent to stand his first season at stud.

"It's kind of a shame, looking back," Lewis says. "I kind of hated that he went to stud the way he did and he didn't run his 3- and 4-year-old years. He might've gotten even stronger."

His very first crop proved that he could pass his talents to his offspring. One of his first runners was the winning filly Tracy Bell, who found her way into Lewis' shedrow. An earner of $7,463 on the racetrack, Tracy Bell finished in the top three in six of eight starts before moving on to a second career as a show horse, where she has earned points in both open and youth performance.

One year later, Houston Jet was represented by his first major-league runner, The Houston Deal. A gelding foaled in 1993, The Houston Deal set Blue Ribbon Downs on fire in 1995, winning five of eight starts and two stakes races while running second in two others. He duplicated his father's accomplishments, earning the dual titles of champion 2-year-old sprint gelding and south-central regional champion.

Changing hands

Meanwhile, somewhere high on a mountaintop in Park Valley, Utah, John Gill was proposing to his future wife, Anna. As they celebrated their engagement from the backs of their trusty Appaloosas -- the first registered Appaloosas either of them had actually owned -- neither could've imagined the role an Appaloosa stallion would play in their future together.

"We just had riding horses and my wife did a lot of English and jumping, barrels -- different things like that," John says. "We weren't really into the racing like we are now."

The Gills got their start in racing thanks to a neighbor, the late Larry Bowden. A staunch supporter of Utah horse racing, Bowden sold the Gills their first racehorses and their first race-bred broodmares.

"As we got into the racing part of it, it was just so exciting," John says. "And it was something that we could do because we could raise the babies and then sell the offspring. But as we started raising the babies, we started falling in love with them and had a hard time parting with them. So I told my wife, 'Maybe we just need to run our own.'"

The Gills quickly decided they wanted their own stallion to breed to their mares, so once again they turned to Larry. John, a racing neophyte, had never heard of the stallion Larry was touting, but he filed the name away for future reference. The stallion was Houston Jet.

"It was kind of funny because that same year I was getting some shipped semen from Victoria Ennis in Oklahoma," John says. "I was trying to breed to Mr Spotted Bull and I Love Willie. During that process, she happened to mention that she had another Appaloosa stallion that she didn't really promote like she did the first two. I asked, 'What's his name?' And she said, 'Houston Jet.'"

John wasted no time in making an offer on the stallion. In the meantime, John also purchased a Houston Jet filly named Shesaspitefuljet Too so he could see for himself the kind of offspring Houston Jet was capable of producing.

Unfortunately, Shesaspitefuljet Too contracted shipping fever on her cross-country trip, effectively ending her racing career before it started. John came up with an alternative plan for the striking filly, sending her out in halter classes where she earned a regional high-point award with limited showing. Shesaspitefuljet Too also became one of the first Houston Jet broodmares, producing the now-2-year-old filly Houston Proxima. A daughter of Easy Saint (AQHA), Houston Proxima was second in the Spring Classic Futurity at Pocatello Downs earlier this year and already has two wins to her credit.

Four-wheel drive

John was already impressed with the looks of just one of Houston Jet's daughters, and was even more stunned when he saw Houston Jet in the flesh.

"I just said, 'Wow, this guy is big!'" John says with a laugh. "He's not all that tall, he's 15.3, but he's just so put together. This big race trainer came over to the house and he walked to the back of 'Houston' and he eyed him up and down. Then he walked to the front of the horse and did the same thing. Then he turned around and said, 'Never in my life have I ever seen a horse that has four-wheel drive!' He's just very well proportioned."

With only a few years of racing experience under their belts, the Gills were in for a crash course on stallion management and breeding and raising racehorses. Houston Jet's first few crops were showing potential on the track and Intermountain breeders were ready to show their support of the young stallion.

"The first breeding year I had Houston, everybody in this area was all excited about him. We bred 27 mares that year, live cover," says John. "Out of those 27 mares, only four babies went to the track. I couldn't believe the numbers would be that far off. I figured maybe half, but only four went to the track. And all four of them are winners."

Second to none

From a total of 78 registered foals, Houston Jet has sired 37 starters, 17 winners, 16 register of merit earners and 12 stakes winners or placers. His foals have earned a total of $157,653 with average earnings per starter of $4,260. The numbers are solid, proving that Houston Jet, like the patriarchs of his family before him, is a potent sire. What the numbers can't tell you, however, is that Houston Jet will be prized as a sire who not only passes on speed, but also sensibility, soundness and smarts.

"That's the thing about these Houston Jets -- they're sound," John explains. "They have some of the biggest bones. They have a good foundation and good muscle on them, and they don't break down."

The other thing with his babies is there's a place for every single one of them because these horses can do anything. You name it, they can do it. They're just athletes, and they're strong."

And according to Anna, who at the age of 42 handles most of the breaking and galloping of the Gills' racing stock, a Houston Jet baby has a personality that's second to none.

"When they go out to do their job, they go out and do their job," she says. "They taught us a lot, and they make it look like we know what we're doing."

Their wildest dreams

Rather than send their horses to outside trainers, the Gills began their own training stable last year. Their first starter, a homebred Houston Jet gelding named Devilbaby, won his first outing and has already amassed a record of five top-three finishes from only nine attempts.

While winning is nice, the Gills especially enjoy the camaraderie of the racing world.

"The race people are very supportive," says John. "Don't get me wrong, they love the competition. When your best friend is there and he has an Appaloosa in that race, he's there to beat you that day. But he's also there to help you if you need some help, and that's the one thing I haven't noticed in any other sport. In racing, the people have really been great."

It also helps to have one of the top stallions in the industry standing in your backyard, a fact John doesn't take for granted.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd have a horse as wonderful as Houston," concludes John. "I couldn't ask for anything better."

{This article, by Stacy Pigott, and accompanying photograph were originally published in the Appaloosa Journal, December 2001, Vol 55, No. 12, "Houston Jet" and are used here by permission.}

Copyright © 2001 Appaloosa Horse Club. All rights reserved.

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