Super Stakes History Spotlight

Peppy Star Rio, ridden by Gary Bellenfant.

She is officially MNY Peppy Star Rio in the registry of the American Quarter Horses Association. But in 1989, when she won the NCHA Super Stakes, she was Peppy Star Rio, the first horse conceived via embryo transfer to win a major event.

Shown by Gary Bellenfant, and the first cutting horse owned by  Mike and Nancy Young, of Baird, Texas, Peppy Star Rio came to the 1989 Super Stakes fresh from the finals of the Gold & Silver Stakes, where she had tied for fourth place. The red roan daughter of Phantom Peppy had also impressed judges and spectators during the 1988 NCHA Futurity, where she placed second with 219.5 points in the semi-finals, but lost a cow in the finals.

In the first two go-rounds of the Super Stakes, Peppy Star Rio earned matching scores of 219.5 points, to tie Peppy Star Gem, under Paul Hansma, with a high average. A 219-point score in the semi-finals placed her in rich company for the finals, which included the NCHA Futurity champion Smart Little Senor and reserve champion Cols Lil Pep.

Peppy Star Rio drew seventh to work in the second set of cattle, so when Clays Little Peppy and Buster Welch scored 222 points midway through the first set, Bellenfant knew they had their work cut out for them. Just a few months earlier, Bellenfant had won the Memphis Futurity catch-riding Clays Little Peppy for Welch, who was recuperating from surgery.

Peppy Star Rio and Bellenfant had finished tenth in the Memphis Futurity, but the Super Stakes was another story. Working three cows with gusto and grit, Peppy Star Rio delivered a 225.5-point performance worth $55,479. Clays Little Peppy was the reserve champion, and Smart Chic Olena, shown by Bill Glass; Dual Pep, under Pat Earnheart; and Docs Peppy Gem, who had won the Super Stakes Non-Pro Finals with George Stout, tied for third.

“I’ve never had one quite like her,” Bellenfant said, following the Super Stakes award ceremony. “She’s so small and frail looking, I bet she doesn’t weigh 800 pounds, and for her to move as hard and strong as she does, she just amazes me. I don’t think she’s even 14 hands, and she packs me like I wasn’t even there. She’s been that way from the start.

“The only thing that I noticed different about her in the finals was that she really let me ask her for a lot without it bothering her. Usually, she’s so sensitive that you have to be careful or you’ll get her jumping too far or too hard.”

Peppy Star Rio was one of five 1985 embryo transfer foals bred by Crawford Farms, Carrizo Springs, Texas, out of Docs Star Chex, by Doc Bar. Prior to 2004, only one foal per year produced by the transfer process from an individual mare could be registered with AQHA, and it was Peppy Star Rio who Crawford Farms selected for registration.

“Crawford Farms had owned Phantom Peppy, and Peppy Star Rio was supposedly their Futurity pony, when we bought her,” said Mike Young. “We respect Gary Bellenfant’s opinion and we thought it would be a good investment.”

Phantom Peppy, an unshown full brother to 1977 NCHA Futurity champion and leading sire Peppy San Badger, had died following the 1987 breeding season, and was not paid up for the 1989 Super Stakes. But the Youngs, who had purchased Peppy Star Rio in November 1988, paid to subscribe him, in order for Bellenfant to show her at the Super Stakes.

Peppy Star Rio would continue to reward the Youngs in 1989, with a win in the NCHA Derby, as well as placement in four other limited age events. She as also the leading 4-year-old money earner of 1989, and later, as a broodmare, produced six NCHA earners of $316,975, including the Shorty Lena gelding Bayou Shorty (DNA), who won the 1996 NCHA Derby and the 1998 NCHA Super Stakes 5/6 Classic under Bellenfant, for the Youngs.

In addition to his NCHA Super Stakes and Derby championships aboard Peppy Star Rio, and the NCHA Derby win with Bayou Shorty, NCHA Riders Hall of Fame inductee Gary Bellenfant, also won the 1995 NCHA Futurity with Peptoboonsmal, and the 2019 NCHA Futurity riding Metallic Rey Mink.