Family ties

Red may not be running toward greatness, but his legendary relative, Seabiscuit, is still a part of him
Thursday, August 11, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:02 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A small horse with a hearty appetite, he moved with lightning speed, had a fiery temper and a quirky personality. Since the adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s book into a popular Hollywood movie starring Tobey Maguire, Seabiscuit has become a household name, a champion known for his extraordinary Depression-era rise to the top of the horse racing world.

A little-known fact is that Seabiscuit’s great-great-great-great-grandson is a Boone County resident. Heza Red Hot Hickory, commonly known as Red, is one of four horses owned by Bill Cox, a retired fireman and Co­lum­bia native. He bought Red, who is 5 years old, from Mike Cheshire, an Ashland horse trainer, as a way to continue his and his wife’s long-held interest in horses. Although Cox knew of Red’s lineage, he said it was of no real consequence to him. “I ride him strictly for pleasure,” Cox said. “He’s big enough, he had the right temperament and is easy to work with.”

Red, son of Red Hot Hickory and Mia Bunny, is related to Seabiscuit on the maternal side. Unlike Seabiscuit, who was a thoroughbred, Red is a quarter horse. Cox says Red was “bred for stamina, quickness and an ability to work cattle.”

Other than his lineage, Red doesn’t appear to share many characteristics with Seabiscuit. He is taller, at 16 hands — about 5 foot 4 inches, measured from between his shoulders to the ground — and has a coat that turns an iridescent red in the sun, hence his name. His appearance is directly at odds with descriptions of his predecessor, who was never known for his looks.

“He’s very calm, which is a lot different than Seabiscuit,” Cox said. “Seabiscuit was supposed to be pretty hard to handle, and (Red) is anything but that.”

Wayne Loch, a professor in the animal sciences department, said that the relationship between Red and Seabiscuit is of little value because of the distance between them.

“This horse now has only a fraction of what comes from Seabiscuit,” Loch said.

Not all great race horses are “great sires” or producers of offspring with racing abilities, Loch said. Although Seabiscuit did produce some racing offspring, he was not a champion sire, said Eric Mitchell, editor of The Blood-Horse MarketWatch and research director of The Blood-Horse, a weekly magazine out of Lexington, Ky.

From 1939 to 1948, Seabiscuit fathered 108 foals. Sixty-six (about 61 percent) of those foals won races, which is “not bad,” Mitchell said. But only four, a little less than 4 percent, of Seabiscuit’s foals were stakes winners, which is not good, he said. “Stakes races are the toughest races and have the best purses,” Mitchell said. “As a general rule, there are stakes because you pay money to nominate your horse (into the race) and pay to enter.”

Seabiscuit had no foals that made it to the “graded stakes” races, such as the Kentucky Derby.

Sail on Bunny, Red’s grandfather, earned $908,000 as a racehorse. Mia Bunny, Red’s mother, won three quarter-horse races for a total of $3,840 in prizes. But Mia Bunny had nine foals, and Red’s father, Red Hot Hickory, sire 156 foals, but none of them were racers.

“He comes from a sire who didn’t run and a mare who produced no race horses,” Mitchell said. “That doesn’t look good for his potential as a race horse. But that doesn’t mean he can’t do other things.”

Red’s family is predominately made up of

quarter horses rather than thoroughbred speed racers. Although he doesn’t come from a strong racing line, Red is related to a famous horse aside from Seabiscuit. Doc Bar, his great-grandfather, was a champion cutting horse. Cutting is a Western sport in which the rider guides the horse to drive a steer out of a herd;

the horse then prevents that steer from re­turn­ing to the herd by cutting off the steer’s path, requiring athleticism, but not necessarily speed.

“(Doc Bar is) probably the all-time leading sires of cutting horses,” said Cheshire, the trainer from whom Cox acquired Red. Red Hot Hickory made more than $60,000 as a cutting horse, said Cheshire, who trained five other foals Red Hot Hickory sired. He said some of the foals had cutting abilities.

Mitchell said Red’s relationship to Seabis­cuit “is a novelty at best.” Mitchell says hun­dreds of thousands of horses can trace their lineage back to Man O’War, Seabiscuit’s father, who was the horse voted No. 1 thoroughbred of the 20th century by The Blood-Horse magazine.

“Pedigree doesn’t mean anything unless you know what you want to do with the horse,” Mitchell said.

Cox said he has no plans to race Red.

“(My horses) got a pretty easy life,” Cox said.

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