Ray Francis has dreamed for decades of holding the best young horse at Devon, and on June 2 in the Dixon Oval in Devon, Pa., that dream came true.
Spanish Spear may have been listed under the ownership of Kenny Wheeler’s Cismont Manor Farm, the perennial powerhouse in the breeding divisions at Devon, but it was Francis who bred and raised the flashy chestnut yearling. And it was Francis with the reins in his hand when the judges–Leo Conroy and Brian Lenehan–declared Spanish Spear the top pick.
Among the horses Spanish Spear (Zarr–Karacter Kount) defeated was his full sister, last year’s best young horse, Anastazia, now 3. Wheeler had bought Anastazia from Francis just weeks before Devon last year. When trying to decide who would show the two at Devon, Wheeler joked, “There’s only one person older than me on this show grounds, and that’s Ray, so I let him pick which one to hold.”
Wheeler bought Spanish Spear when he was just 2 months old, from a photo Francis sent him. Francis called him and said that Anastazia’s younger brother was something special, and Wheeler took him at his word. Spanish Spear stayed with Francis until Devon, where Wheeler laid eyes on him in the flesh for the first time.
“I thought he was as nice a colt as I had seen,” Francis said of Spanish Spear.
Francis’ mare Kar-acter Kount has been a prolific producer of quality young horses, with her progeny winning on the line at Devon for years. Now 19, she lost her foal this spring and was barren in the year between Anastazia and Spanish Spear.
While full siblings, Anastazia and Spanish Spear don’t look much alike. Anastazia is a compact, round, powerful-looking filly, bright bay with one small, white sock. And Spanish Spear is a leggy, elegant chestnut, with four flashy, high, white socks and a blaze. “He’s a totally different kind of horse, and he’s going to be bigger than her,” said Wheeler.
Spanish Spear also accomplished a triple crown of wins at Devon, taking the best Pennsylvania-bred title, the best yearling honors, and then finishing with the best young horse award. His wins were just as exciting for Joni Werthan, who stands his sire, Zarr, at her farm in Franklin, Tenn., as they were for his connections.
“We give so much credit to our clients. They’re people who jumped on the bandwagon early and really believed in Zarr,” Werthan said. Zarr, a 10-year-old Trakehner, never had a performance career because he lost one eye. But he’s made his mark in the breeding shed, capturing the USEF leading hunter breeding sire title last year.
The win was extra-special for Francis, since a month earlier he survived a harrowing experience. While shipping a 2-year-old and a yearling to a horse show, an oncoming car crossed the yellow line and crashed into his truck right behind the driver’s seat. The car tore the rear end off the truck, then plowed under the trailer, flipping it up off the hitch and upside-down into a field.
Miraculously, Francis and the two horses suffered just minor scratches and bruises. Francis, aware how lucky he was, said he was incredibly touched by the outpouring of support he experienced afterward.
“So many people called and offered help, and I’m so thankful for that. I must have had 50 or 60 calls in the next day or so, and everyone was so kind and thoughtful. It really meant a lot,” Francis said.
Lita “Squeaky” Wangensteen didn’t have quite the same dramatic history before Devon, but her colt, Sox Fifth Avenue, provided some thrills of his own, claiming the reserve best young horse honors. He won the 3-year-old non-Thoroughbred colts and geldings class on his way to the championship.
“I’m just so proud of him I can’t stand it,” said Wangensteen.
Wangensteen was judging a show in New York’s Genesee Valley two years ago when she spotted some foals she liked. When she inquired about their breeding, she discovered they were by Everest, a young stallion standing at Concord Hill Farm in Boston, N.Y. A quick call revealed that the breeder had what she considered the best-looking one of them all. Wangensteen drove 17 hours from her home in Rembert, S.C., to see Sox Fifth Avenue.
“They all had really pretty heads and necks, but he had really long legs, and I liked that,” said Wangensteen. She bought the then-4-month-old.
Wangensteen showed “Sox” on the line a bit as a yearling, but “he was so tall and long-legged that he didn’t do as well,” she said. “But that’s what I like about him. He’s very athletic-looking and looks like he could do something. I think he’s the best horse I’ve ever had. He’s so beautiful.”
As a 2-year-old, Sox took the reserve best young horse honors at Upperville (Va.) and won the 2-year-old under saddle class at the International Hunter Futurity regional finals in Warrenton, Va. He was then awarded the best young horse title at the IHF Finals (Ky.).
Now 17 hands, Sox has begun his under-saddle training and is jumping small courses. Wangensteen plans to show him in the IHF regionals and finals this summer.
“He’s a wonderful jumper, and a great mover. He’s given me a lot of fun. Wherever he goes, he has a fan club. He’s so handsome that people notice him, and they follow him,” she said.