Apr 7, 2020

Super Stakes History Spotlight

Smart Little Lena: 1983 Super Stakes winner
and Triple Crown champion

The late Bill Freeman with Smart Little Lena in 2002. Sally Harrison photo.

As the first stallion to be offered for syndication prior to his debut in the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity, Smart Little Lena carried a lot of expectations going into the event, as did his rider, Bill Freeman, who had taken a financial risk to purchase half-interest in the colt as a two-year-old.

“He was a small horse and not very pretty, but he was what everyone dreams about having at least once their lifetime,” said Freeman, who had won the 1979 Futurity on Docs Diablo, by Doc’s Prescription, a full brother to Docs Lynx, sire of Stylish Lynx, the first NCHA Super Stakes champion.

Smart Little Lena rewarded Freeman’s confidence by winning the 1982 NCHA Futurity, followed in 1983 by NCHA Super Stakes and NCHA Derby wins to become the first NCHA Triple Crown champion. It was just the beginning of a long and storied career during which Smart Little Lena fulfilled the dreams of innumerable horse owners, trainers, breeders, and riders.

Bred by Hanes Chatham, Fort Worth, Tex., Smart Little Lena was sired by 1970 NCHA Futurity champion Doc O’Lena, whose daughter, Lenaette, in 1975, made him the first Futurity champion to sire a Futurity champion. Smart Peppy, Smart Little Lena’s dam, was the only full sister to Royal Santana, a dynamic Peppy San gelding Chatham admired.

Chatham broke and started Smart Little Lena himself, then took the colt to Bill Freeman to be conditioned for the 1981 NCHA Futurity 2-Year-Old Sale. Freeman was unimpressed when Chatham arrived with “this little sorrel stud, ugly as a mud fence and about thirteen hands, three inches tall.” But soon enough, under the homely exterior, Freeman found solid gold.

“When I stepped up on him and cut a cow that first day, there was something magical about him,” said Freeman. “It made the hair on the back of my head raise up. And the next day when I rode him, he was even better. I believed in him and I had to have that horse.”

Smart Little Lena drew last in his bunch of cattle in the first go-round of the Futurity. But after his 222.5-point win in the first round, Freeman was no longer concerned about where he drew. “There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to win the Futurity,” he said. “I felt bullet proof, especially when I put my hand down in the first go-round and he took hold of that cow and squatted. I thought, okay, I’ve got more than just a friend, I’ve got a show horse, too.”

Freeman and Chatham had sold 17 of the 20 shares in Smart Little Lena they offered for $5,000 each prior to the Futurity. They sold 10 of the 80 remaining shares for $25,000 each in January, at the Augusta Futurity, and the rest for $50,000 each at the Super Stakes. After that, shares were offered by individual owners, including two that each brought $75,000 during the NCHA Derby.

At the Futurity, arrangements had been made to stand Smart Little Lena at Manion Ranch in Aubrey, Texas. That first season, he was bred up until one week before the Super Stakes, when he was sent back to Freeman to prepare for the event, which he won handily with 221 points. Following the trophy presentation, Freeman had to hurry Smart Little Lena out of the arena because souvenir-hunting fans had begun to pull hair out of his mane and tail.

“He had something, call it charisma, that drew people to him,” said Freeman. “Very few, if any, horses that I have been around had that quality.

“When he walked to the herd, that place (Will Rogers Coliseum) would just be silent. It was always a real eerie feeling because he was so little that it took forever to get him to the herd, and all the way you could hear a pin drop. Then his first move or his first look on a cow, the place would just erupt.”

Three months after the Super Stakes, Smart Little Lena struck gold again, when he tied Peppymint Twist in the NCHA Derby and became the first horse to win the NCHA Triple Crown. Forty years later, he is one of just three horses to have ever accomplished the feat.

A win in the 1984 Masters Cutting, after which he was retired from the show arena, brought Smart Little Lena’s unofficial earnings to $743,275; his official earnings of $577,652 made him NCHA’s #1 leading all-time leading money earner.

The syndication engineered by Chatham and Freeman assured that Smart Little Lena would receive the industry’s top broodmares, and it didn’t take him long to top the sire charts, when Smart Date, from his first crop, won the 1987 NCHA Futurity.

Today, Smart Little Lena is the unassailable #1 all-time leading broodmare sire with $66,709,305 in earnings, followed by Freckles Playboy with $45,602,640, and High Brow Cat with $38,236,973. He also ranks #3 among all-time leading sires, with offspring earnings of $37,198,683; #6 among all time paternal sires with $62,201,483; and his gelded son Red White And Boon is the #2 all-time leading NCHA earner of $882,498.